Advent 2022: What Should I Give to Baby Jesus?

“They opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh,” (Matthew 2:11)

What kind of gift do you bring to a newborn King? When royals or celebrities have babies, gifts pour in from all around the world. Lavish, expensive presents like giant stuffed animals, beautiful baby clothes, and the very latest in baby paraphernalia. Only the best will do for these little ones of such high standing. When the wise men came to visit Jesus, they brought gifts worthy of a first-century king – gold, incense, and myrrh. Many scholars believe there is significance in each of these gifts. “Gold might represent His deity and purity, incense the fragrance of His life, and myrrh His sacrifice and death (myrrh was used as an embalming spice)” (Louis A. Barbieri, Jr. “Matthew” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 1984. 22). These gifts would have provided for the family as they escaped Herod by fleeing to Egypt. I love the story of the little boy who, during the offering at church, set the plate on the floor and stood in it. His embarrassed mother pulled him back to his seat and  whispered “What are you doing?” He replied in a very loud voice, “But Mommy, I don’t gots no money, so I wanted to give Jesus myself!” Image the sermon that might have followed that! But our little friend is right on target.

So back to our original question? What kind of gift do you give to a newborn King? Just as the magi presented Jesus with gifts, the Bible tells us that we are to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—which is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds” (Romans 12:1-2). Paul said our gifts to God are our bodies (v. 1) and our minds (v. 2) – what we do and how we think. Then add Jesus’ words about the great commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). This covers our affections, our emotions, our convictions, and our life-focus.  In other words, we are to give every bit of ourselves to the Lord in total surrender. We give Him ourselves, inside and out. Just as He did for you and me. Beloved, let all of you be your gift to Jesus this Christmas.

In a Dry and Weary Land

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Before David became the king of Israel he was a man on the run. He was being pursued by the reigning king, Saul, who was jealous of David’s popularity after the shepherd boy killed Goliath and the women had danced and sang in his honor. He ran for his life, into the desert of Judah. Deserts are harsh places and David lamented this “dry and weary land where there is no water” (Ps 63:1b). David was thirsty, but it wasn’t liquid refreshment he craved. Listen to his cry: “O God, You are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for You, my body longs for You . . .” (v. 1a). Water would have been welcome, but David’s greatest desire was for his God.  He said, “Your love is better than life,” (v. 3).

I understand David’s desert season. It’s been a rough couple of weeks with sickness, struggles, responsibilities, and my granddaughter moving away. But I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. You’ve also had struggles of one kind or another. It’s so draining. The result is the same: the heart becomes weary and the soul gets dry. What do we do in these desert seasons? The same things David did.

We earnestly seek God. The KJV says “early will I seek thee” and that’s the best time to start – early. Yes, early in the morning, but also early in the dry spell. Don’t wait until your heart is withered and parched. Seek God early, as soon as you feel the sand on your toes. Earnestly also means diligently. Seek God early and often.

We praise God. “My lips will glorify you. I will praise You as long as I live . . . my mouth will praise You.” (v. 3-5 sel). Praise is like vitamin-infused water to our dry hearts. And praise silences the enemy who loves to hit you when you’re down.

We remember God. “On my bed, I remember you; I think of You through the watches of the night” (v. 6). When my heart is heavy, my brain will not shut up at night. Rather than think about all the things that are going wrong, we can choose to think about what is “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Phil 4:8). In other words, think about God.

We grab hold of God. “My soul clings to you; (v. 8). Remember the old bandaid song, “I am stuck on Bandaid, cause Bandaid’s stuck on me.” Cling to God because “Your right hand upholds me.” He’s got you.

We rejoice in the Lord. “Rejoice in God; all who swear by God’s name will praise Him” (v. 11). We can rejoice because God is faithful. He will come with His refreshing, comforting, powerful presence. We have His Word on it.

Beloved, if your heart is dry and weary, seek God, praise Him, remember Him, hang on to Him, and find Joy in Him. And “sing in the shadow of His wings” (v. 7).

All In

A hen and a pig were looking at the farmer’s breakfast plate, with toast, grits, eggs, and bacon. The hen strutted around saying, “Look at the hen’s contribution to this fine breakfast – see those eggs there on the plate!” The pig looked at the hen and said, “You hens make a contribution, but for us pigs, it’s an all-or-nothing commitment.”

“Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). Jesus has very high expectations for His followers. He doesn’t just want contributors, he wants people who will surrender it all to Him. People who will Joyfully “lose their life” for the Kingdom.

What does that really mean? When I study His Word – and look at the world – I realize that Jesus meant exactly what he said. I researched the words Matthew recorded and He said that those who deny Him are more concerned with keeping their earthly lives safe and sound and free from suffering and danger than they are with His Kingdom. (Have you noticed a “suffering” theme in my devotionals lately? That’s not my choice. I believe that God is preparing us for something.) And the life we lose – or destroy according to the Greek – is our souls. When we chose our lives over the Kingdom of God we throw away eternal life with Christ in heaven.

I’ve always heard to lose your life for Christ’s sake means letting go of everything that the world tells us life is all about. Certainly, it’s recognizing that whatever reward this temporal life offers – pleasure, fame, wealth, power, status, or intellect – cannot compare with all Christ offers. But losing our life literally means being willing to die for His Kingdom. We have the examples of the apostles and the martyrs of the faith who died with the name of Jesus on their lips. It’s not only about denying worldly attractions, but it’s being ready to face lions and swords and all manner of suffering – even death. It is trading the small sphere of this world for the much bigger eternal Kingdom of God. So I ask you, Beloved, are you making a contribution to the Kingdom of God or are you all in?

More than Live, Love, Laugh

This week in VBS we are learning about the value of life. One night our lesson was about God’s design for us. We were made by a Designer for a wonderful purpose. I asked the 5-6 graders what are the three purposes for which man was designed. One student blurted out “Live, Laugh, Love.” Somebody’s mama loves Hobby Lobby. The correct answer was “to know God, to praise God, and to love God.”

Jeremiah 24:7 says, “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God.” Paul said that everything God does in this world is so that “men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him . . .” (Acts 17:27). Of all the things that God created – which is everything – only man was designed to know his Creator. When we miss getting to know God, we miss the foundational purpose of our lives.

We were also made to praise God. The psalmist said, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6). Praise is the natural response to knowing God. I’ve been to the Grand Canyon, seen the Eiffel Tower, and witnessed both sunrises and sunsets and my reaction is always the same: “Wow!” How much more so when we see even the smallest glimpse of God.

We were made to love God. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). Your heart is the foundation and seat of your thoughts, passions, desires, and intelligence. Loving God with all your heart is an emotion driven by reason or conscious thought. The mind is the part of the inner person that thinks and processes information into understanding. Loving God with your mind involves making choices driven by a thoughtful process of information. The soul is the immaterial (and eternal) part of the inner person, Loving God with all your soul involves emotion fueled by desire and affection; a special connection to the beloved (in this case, God).  Strength is a marker of great degree or quantity, something beyond measure. Loving God with all your strength denotes a measure of quantity, abundance, and ability, in other words – obedience. When we know God, praise God, and love God all the rest falls into its proper place. Beloved, do you know your purpose?

The Imago Dei

All my life I believed there was nothing good in me – nothing worth redeeming. Recently I took that belief to God’s Word – back to Genesis and creation.  Please take a moment and read Genesis 1:26-27. Both verses record the creation of man in the image of God, the Imago Dei. What does that mean?

It means there was a certain essence of God imbued in man at the time of creation. It’s the very nature of humans, something we are rather than something we have or do.  Man was created as body, soul, and spirit.  It is within this trichotomy that we are unique from every other living creation. We have a body – a physical shell –. that houses the soul – the seat of reason and emotion. But what truly sets us apart from all the rest of creation is the spirit – the part where the most distinctive image of God is found: the Imago Dei. It is the spirit that enables us to commune with God.  Scholars and theologians have debated this for centuries. It is one of God’s great mysteries and we can only accept it and rejoice in it, for this image is what God sees in man that calls out to His heart for redemption.

God saw His image – the Imago Dei in me, and He pursued me. Me, who’s never been pursued in her life – and He drew me to His Son. He saved me through the cross of redemption, through the blood of Christ, and in saving me He imparted His Spirit to me, and His Spirit brought my spirit to life.  He brought Image and Spirit together to create a perfected being – (Perfect – teleioo – to perfect, complete, finish, to reach a goal, be fulfilled, made complete.)  He restored me to God’s original design – complete in Image and Spirit.

Now God sees in me His completed design. He does not see my faults and failings, my shortcomings, my weight, anxieties, character flaws, temper, or impurities. He only sees His Son. Because of Jesus, He sees a completed, beautiful and whole person. I don’t know what that means to you, but it means the world to me. In Christ, I am made complete. Beloved, this can be your testimony too. You were made in the image of God and the redemption of Jesus Christ is available to you – just receive this wonderful gift – it is given freely. Will you be complete in Christ?

Gifts Fit For a King

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“They opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh,” (Matthew 2:11)

What kind of gift do you bring to a newborn King? When royals or celebrities have babies, gifts pour in from all around the world. Lavish, expensive presents like giant stuffed animals, beautiful baby clothes, and the very latest in baby transportation. Only the best will do for these little ones of such high standing. When the wise men came to visit Jesus, they brought gifts worthy of a first-century king – gold, incense, and myrrh. Many scholars believe there is significance in each of these gifts: “Gold might represent His deity and purity, incense the fragrance of His life, and myrrh His sacrifice and death” (myrrh was used as an embalming spice) (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament).

I love the story of the little boy who, during the offering at church, set the plate on the floor and stood in it. His embarrassed mother pulled him back to his seat and  whispered “What are you doing?” He replied in a very loud voice, “But Mommy, I don’t gots no money, so I wanted to give Jesus myself!” Image the sermon that might have followed that! But our little friend is right on target. Just as the magi presented Jesus with gifts, the Bible tells us that we are to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God,” (Romans 12:1). In the first two verses of Romans 12, Paul tells us that our gifts to God are our bodies (v. 1) and our minds (v. 2) – what we do and how we think. In other words, we are to give every bit of ourselves to the Lord. Remember Jesus’ words about the great commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). This covers your affections, your emotions, your convictions, and your life-focus.  It’s total surrender. We love God by giving Him ourselves, inside and out. Beloved, let all of you be your gift to Jesus this Christmas.

What are You Looking For?

  • “Look to the Lord and His strength, seek His face always” (1 Chronicles 16:11)

    He stared into the open refrigerator for the third time in an hour. “What are you looking for son?” I asked. “I don’t know,” he answered “Something.”

    Something. We’re all looking for “something” and most of us don’t know what that something is. Like my son, we sense a lack, a hunger, a desire – but can’t quite put our finger on what will fill us. He eventually settled on a sandwich, but I knew he would be back before long, looking for “something” more.

    The craving of the soul is far more powerful than the craving of an empty stomach, and the world we live in offers a myriad of things to fill that aching hole. Some of us run after success and all the material things that go along with it – houses, cars, fine things and finer people, vacations in exotic places. For others, it is physical pleasure. This world overflows with sensual pleasures to feed the lustful nature; but lust can never be satisfied and the quest for pleasure becomes an insatiable appetite. Maybe it is power – the hand of authority and influence; or popularity, after all who doesn’t like to be liked? Many have turned to food in excess, or stuff – just piles and piles of stuff. Sadly many lose themselves to the numbing effects of drugs or alcohol.

    What is it we really want? What is it that our souls are desperately seeking? A simple statement by Saint Augustine of Hippo answers our questions: “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.”  It is God that we want. God our hearts crave. Because God created us and put His own image in us, our spirits yearn to be in fellowship with our Creator. That emptiness is meant to cause us to pursue God, but the world steps up with everything else and if we are not earnestly seeking Him we grab hold of what is set before us instead. We were not made for all these other things. We were made for God.

    David understood this. Listen to his words: “O God you are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for You in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1). David is on the run in the desert from the evil King Saul, who is seeking to take his life. He is thirsty and weary in the dry desert heat, and in his physical needs, he turns to God. Yes, he needs water and rest, but it is the ache in his soul that causes him to cry out to the Lord, to seek his God. Notice his is not just a passing prayer, but he is earnestly seeking, a passionate longing, a determined searching. The original Hebrew offers the image of foraging, like a starving animal seeking food to stay alive. That is the earnest seeking of a man who knows that only God can satisfy him, only God can fill the empty places. God is what David craves. God is what our own empty heart craves.

    What happens when we pursue God this way? Scripture is full of His promises to the earnest seeker. “Those who know Your name trust in You, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek You” (Psalm 9:10) God is faithful to the one who seeks Him. “Glory in His holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always” (Psalm 105:3-4). God promises joy and strength when we seek Him. “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him” (Lamentations 3:25). God pours out His goodness on those who seek Him. “This is what the Lord says to the house of Israel: ‘Seek me and live’” (Amos 5:4). God offers life to the one who seeks Him. Real life. Abundant life. Eternal life.

    The most precious promise to the seeking heart is found in Jeremiah 29:13 – “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Listen to the very next verse: “I will be found by you” (v. 14). God is inviting us to seek Him, and in the same breath promises to make Himself open and accessible to us. He said “I have not spoken in secret… I have not said…’seek me in vain’” (Isaiah 45:19). Your Creator doesn’t play a divine game of “hide and seek.” He says we can “seek and find.”

    God has been making Himself known since creation. He had made Himself visible in the world around us. Every tree and star and mountain testifies to Him. He had given us His Word, the Bible, and every page is telling the story of God and His love for you and me. As if that were not enough, He sent His Son, Jesus to walk among men and women and children, that we might be able to reach out and touch the very flesh of God, to see His face and hear His voice and – oh, hear this with your heart – to seek you.

    What are you looking for my friend? Listen to your aching heart. Hear the cries of your empty soul. It isn’t wealth or pleasure or power or things that you want. Deep within, you are longing for God, because you were made for Him. Seek Him, and you will find Him, because He has already found you.

     

    Holy Father, my Creator and God, ”You have said to my heart ‘Seek My face!’ Your face Lord, I will seek” (Psalm 27:8). Amen