Friday, December 21, 2012


            Today is the day many people have been looking forward to with dread. Today is the day the world is supposed to end. Someone announced this a while back, based on the Mayan calendar. It has gotten much press and has depressed many people. I heard an interview on the radio with an astrophysicist who set up a website to address the fears of concerned people. One fearful young person wanted to know if they should have their pet put to sleep before the end of the world. Others were considering suicide so that they would not have to face the apocalypse.

            Predictions about the end of the world have surfaced throughout history. I once received an unsolicited book titled “88 Reasons Why the World will End in 1988.” Harold Camping is infamous for his end-of-the-world predictions. To this point, they have all proven false.

            Jesus addressed this very question in Matthew 24. His disciples were concerned about the end of time and so they asked Jesus to enlighten them. Here is part of that conversation as Matthew recorded it.

            As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.
                "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come
. Matthew 24:3-14 (NIV)

            The Bible is full of information about the end of the world. All of it is intended to call us to faith and to alleviate our fears. As Jesus stated, there will be much speculation and fear surrounding the end of the world. As Jesus predicted, we have seen wars and earthquakes and famines, but the end has not yet come. The overwhelming message of Jesus, for those who have put their faith in Him, is that we don’t have to live in fear. Jesus made that very clear in John 16:33. "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

            Jesus also made it clear that no one is going to figure out when He will return and the world, as we know it, will end. I suppose someone might predict the time by pure chance, but I have a suspicion that God will not even allow that to happen. When the time for the end comes, people will be going about their normal activities unaware of what is going to happen.

            "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left”. Matthew 24:36-41 (NIV)

             The most important thing that Jesus says about the end of the world is that we need to get ready now. When Jesus first began his public ministry, his message was simple. “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” That message has not changed. Jesus is still calling us to repent and come back to God. So over and over, the Bible tells us to prepare our souls by receiving the gift of salvation that only Jesus can give.

            As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain. For he says, "In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you." I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation. 2 Corinthians 6:1-2 (NIV)

            Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, "Peace and safety," destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 (NIV)

            When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, we do not have to fear the future. Our future is secure in Him. The world did not end today, but even if it did, it would not be the end of the world for those who have put their faith in Christ.

            "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going." Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:1-6 (NIV)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Ornaments on the Christmas Tree

                Over the years we have had many international students in our house at Christmas time. Many of them have never experienced Christmas like we do here in America. One of the things that often fascinates them is the Christmas tree, and the ornaments in particular. I have often had to try to answer the question what do these ornaments mean?

                In the early 1800s Christmas trees were covered with real fruits and nuts that reminded people that spring would come again and the cold wintery season would not be everlasting. The fruits and nuts symbolized the new life that would come at the end of a dark and dreary season of winter.

                The first Christmas ornaments were developed in Germany by a glassblower that lived in the town of Lauscha. He decided to blow some small glass balls and hang them on his family Christmas tree one year. His friends and family fell in love with the tiny glass bulbs. Soon the glassblower began selling them in his shop. Within a few short years, the entire town of Lauscha had glassblowers selling Christmas ornaments. By the mid to late 1800s, entrepreneurs were blowing glass Christmas ornaments all over Germany. Eventually they made their way across sea to the United States.

                By the time the Christmas ornaments actually made their way to the United States they were no longer just tiny glass balls. Christmas ornaments now consisted of all sorts of glass pieces such as fruits and nuts, hearts and stars, and dozens of other shapes of glass that had been molded and colored in an endless prism of colors and shapes. Christmas ornaments were brought to the United States by F.W. Woolworth in the year 1880 to be sold in his store also known as Woolworth's Five and Dime stores.

                My wife and I have a box full of ornaments that we sort through every Christmas. Some have been presents and some we have purchased for ourselves. Some are whimsical and some are more serious. Most of them have a story behind them.
- We have a small, pale blue place mat, complete with place setting and our picture in the middle. It was given to us as a wedding present.
- We have a set of three hedgehog ornaments that were given to Suanne because she was collecting hedgehogs.
- We have a set of small matrushka dolls that I bought in Ukraine.
- There are a few wood ornaments that Suanne bought when she was in Israel in college.
- There are a few ornaments that represent places we have visited in our travels.
- There are a number of ornaments that have something to do with one of our children.
- There are a number of angels on our tree.
- There are several nativity scenes.
- There are ornaments that never make it out of the box, because they have been replaced by others or because the tree just can’t hold them all.

                As we think about Christmas there are a number of ornaments that God hung on His Christmas tree a long time ago.

-There is the ornament of hope. During some of Israel’s darkest days, God hung the ornament of hope on his Christmas tree. He gave His people the promise of a Savior; the Messiah.

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. Isaiah 7:14 (NIV)

- There is the ornament of humble innocence and acceptance. When the time came, God tapped a young girl, by the name of Mary, to be the instrument through which the Messiah would come into the world.

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God." "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her. Luke 1:26-38 (NIV)

- There is the ornament of heroic faith. Although Mary would know the reality of the angel’s message for sure, Joseph had to accept the angel’s message on faith. He had to be willing to step aside and become a spectator to God’s plans.

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"--which means, "God with us." When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. Matthew 1:18-25 (NIV)

- There is the ornament of awe and wonder. God did not let the birth of Jesus go unannounced. He sent angels to a very unlikely group of people, to tell them the good news that the Messiah had arrived.

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, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. Luke 2:8-20 (NIV)

- There is the ornament of discovery and joy. God made it clear from the beginning that He intended to send his anointed one to the whole world. So he alerted a significant group of scholarly men, in a far off country, to come and discover the Messiah for themselves.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "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."

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh
. Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11 (NIV)

- There is the ornament of believing, saving faith. Those who were involved in the events of the first Christmas were able to see Christ for themselves. But all who have come after that time must encounter Jesus through faith.

Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!" Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. John 20:24-31 (NIV)

                There are many ornaments that hang on our Christmas tree. Each one is a symbol that reminds us of something significant in our life. The most important ones are the ornaments of faith. The ornaments that are hung by God in our heart; that remind us that Jesus came into the world for us.

But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. Galatians 4:4-7 (NIV)

Saturday, December 15, 2012


                Do you ever get chilled and then feel like you just can’t get warm? Sometimes, when the weather becomes cold and damp, I get chilled. It is not a matter of the actual temperature, but of the combination of conditions. When I get chilled, it is hard to stay focused. I have a small heater in my office for times just like this. When I get chilled, I place the heater near my chair, plug it in and soon it is radiating warmth.  

                Sometimes, circumstances chill my soul. As I write this, I am grieving with the people of Newtown, Connecticut. A 20 year old man walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 26 people, mostly children. I huge “WHY!” erupts from the very depth of my soul. It is a question that we will never fully answer. In the aftermath of such an event, a chill settles on my soul. What can we do, in response to such events, to take the chill off of our soul?

                We can begin by being realistic about the world we live in. We are always surprised by events like the shooting at Sandy Hook. We expect this kind of thing to happen in less stable parts of the world, but not in small town America. We should never get to the place where we are callous to events like this. Yet, we need to come to grips with the reality that we live in a violent world that is only going to get worse. Jesus warned his disciples that as time on earth draws short, we can expect the level of violence to increase. Satan is not going to go out without a fight.

                Jesus said to them: "Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am he,' and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains. Mark 13:5-8 (NIV)

                We need to understand that, even though these things play out in our material world, they are spiritual in nature. Whenever we become aware of a crisis like this, many people look for simplistic answers to address the issue. Already we are hearing the cries for more laws to protect us. The problem is that all a law can do is shield us for a time for the real danger. The real problem is within the souls of people, who are unwittingly playing into the hands of Satan. Although we should do all we can to protect innocent people, let’s never think that passing another law is the ultimate answer.

                For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12 (NIV)

                We can know that Jesus enters our grief with us. When Jesus went to Mary and Martha at the death of Lazarus, he wept with them, even though he knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead. Jesus came to earth as a human being in order to experience our life firsthand. He understands our struggles intimately. We can go to him for comfort.

                Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16 (NIV)

                We need to put our faith to work and trust Christ’s promises to us. Jesus never promised to answer the question “why.” He did promise to be with us in every situation in life. We can find hope in the reality that God is still in control, even when our world seems out of control. Jesus promised us that even in the face of horrendous events like Sandy Hook, he has not abandoned us. 

                        "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:33 (NIV)

                We also need to trust him to redeem even the worst situations. The killings at Sandy Hook were senseless and appalling. We will never understand them. We can claim Christ’s promise that he can redeem even that negative situation. Rather than being a trite platitude, God’s promise is an anchor for chaotic times.

                And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (NIV)

                Lastly, God has given us one another for times just like this. When a chill has descended upon our souls, we can gain spiritual warmth by coming together to support and encourage one another. Just as physical body heat is positively compounded when people huddle together, so our spiritual vitality is enhanced when we come together, in the name of Jesus, to face the crushing events of life.

                Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Romans 12:15 (NIV)
                Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 (NIV)

Friday, December 14, 2012


            As we drove along the highway, I saw the sign for a gas station. I glanced down at my gas gauge. It read one quarter full. I thought to myself, I’ll fill up at the next station. As the miles clicked by, and my gas supply decreased, I nervously watched for any sign of an upcoming gas station. The Montana landscape was barren and open. There were no buildings to be seen for miles and miles. We approached an exit and I eagerly looked for a gas station. There was one there, but it was boarded up and out of service. We were driving through the night and the last thing that I wanted was to be stranded on the highway in the middle of nowhere. I was praying fervently that God would get us to a safe place before the gas ran out. Finally, at 6:00 AM, I saw lights on the horizon. As we approached the exit I could see a café and a gas station. We pulled off the highway and into the parking lot. The gas station was closed for the night, but would reopen soon. The café was open. I breathed a prayer of thanks as we wearily climbed out the car. When I finally was able to fill the tank, I pumped in the full capacity of the tank. We were literally running on fumes. God had sustained us beyond what we could have hoped for.

            There have been a number of times in my life when I have been running on empty spiritually and emotionally. I tell myself that if I can just hold out until the next vacation or the next day off I’ll make it. The longer I go the more drained I feel and the more anxious I become. During those times, I desperately need God to fill my tank. There are a few lessons I have learned along the way, which I often fail to heed, to my shame.

            Keep your spiritual and emotional tank as full as possible. Don’t let it get dangerously low. The best way to do this is to be disciplined about spending time daily in prayer and reading the Bible. I try to devote the first hour of my day to filling up my spiritual tank. Sometimes, the demands of ministry get in the way, and I give in to the temptation to pass up the gas station and plunge ahead. When I do this I usually get in trouble. My energy and enthusiasm begin to drain away. I become spiritually sluggish and unproductive.

            Jesus set the example for us. Although we don’t have a detailed outline of how Jesus spent each day, we do know that Jesus regularly spent time alone in prayer and communion with the Father. We see an example of this in Mark 1:35. Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. The demands on Jesus were incredible. If he would have allowed it, Jesus could have been meeting the needs of people 24/7. Jesus understood the need to recharge on a regular basis, so he willingly removed himself from the crowds to meet with His Father.

            If we are going to be effective in our Christian life, we need to constantly refill our spiritual tanks. This will take some intentionality and discipline on our part. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
- Be consistent. Set a regular time in your schedule to pray and read. We make appointments with many people throughout our day. Make an appointment with God and then keep it. It will be the most important meeting you have.
- Be compassionate with yourself. Many people struggle with being consistent in their daily devotions. If they miss a day or two, they beat themselves up as bad people. They feel guilty so they either compensate by trying to do even more, or they give up. Be gracious to yourself. If you miss a day, move on. Pick it up the next day and keep going.
- Be creative. One thing that stops people from having their daily devotions is that they become stale and routine. If you do the same thing day after day, it will lose its vitality. Be intentional about changing the way you go about your devotions. Use a variety of devotional guides. Be intentional about praying for different things on different days.

            We all face times when the demands of life overwhelm us. It is not that we have been negligent. Instead we got caught in circumstances beyond our control. At those times, it is essential to lean more fully of the grace and power of Christ. Spiritual storms are a reality of the world we live in. If we try to face them in our own strength we will quickly be discouraged and defeated. Instead we should learn to trust God to give us the strength to keep moving forward. There are two passages from Paul’s letters that come to mind when I am feeling overwhelmed.

            First, Paul understood that his strength could take him only so far. God used one of those “out of Paul’s control” experiences to teach Paul a valuable lesson. We read about it in 2 Corinthians 12.
            To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NIV)

            Paul was a high powered, get things done kind of a guy. Weakness was not something that he had any time for. God had to remind Paul that his real strength came from God. When Paul was afflicted with his thorn in the flesh, he could have complained, he could have given up, but instead he accepted God’s hand in it and leaned even more on the power of Christ.

            I often fall prey to the idea that I should be stronger or that I should be able to push ahead on my own strength. God has to continually remind me that He is in control and I my strength comes from allowing Christ to work through me.

            The other passage that I think of is Ephesians 6:10-13 (NIV). Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

            Paul reminds me of two very important things. When I face the challenges of life, it is my responsibility to take advantage of the resources God has given me. Armor is intended to protect. It can only protect me if I put it on. When I face the challenges of life, I need to stand my ground and let Christ fight the battle.

            God protected my family on that desolate stretch of highway in Montana. He sustained us beyond what I thought was possible. He continues to do that on a daily basis, especially when I am running on empty.

Ephesians 3:20-21 (NIV)
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Friday, December 7, 2012


            I am always reflective on this day of the year. This is the day, back in 1941, that the Japanese Imperial Navy made a surprise attack on our naval base at Pearl Harbor. It was that act that plunged the United States into WWII. Even though we could see the warning signs on the horizon, we were unprepared when the attack came. That one event changed the course of our history.

            Over 2000 years ago another invasion took place. It had been predicted and looked forward to, but when it came, most people were unprepared. It too changed the world. That invasion came in an insignificant place called Bethlehem.

            For hundreds of years, the people of Israel looked forward to the day when the Messiah would come. In fact, they longed for that day. They expected him to come like the Japanese came to Pearl Harbor, with guns blazing. They expected a warrior king who would defeat their enemies and restore the glory of Israel. So when Jesus entered the world, they had their eyes focused on the wrong place.

            Jesus slipped into our world almost unnoticed. If it had not been for the announcement to the shepherds by the angel, there would have been no one to celebrate Jesus’ birth. It had not been for some watchful magi in a far off country, there would have been no gifts for this newborn king. The people who should have celebrated this amazing event let it pass unnoticed.

            John tells us that Jesus’ birth was a quiet invasion that hardly made a stir, at least at first. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. John 1:10-11 (NIV)

            After the Pearl Harbor attack, America mobilized. It became one of the most powerful nations in history. But it took an extraordinary event to lift us out of our isolationism and lethargy.

            Even though Jesus’ entrance into the world was quiet, and almost unnoticed, he lit a flame that set the whole world ablaze. John tells us that Jesus’ impact was enormous. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. John 1:12-13 (NIV)

            Jesus began a movement of faith that transformed the world. Today, time itself is marked from the birth of Jesus. Every western calendar hanging on a wall or flashing on a computer screen is a silent witness to the impact of Jesus. Jesus set a revolution into motion that continues to spread today. Millions of people around the world have received Jesus’ invitation to follow Him. Because of this one man, the moral standards of the world have been revised and upgraded. Because of this one man, compassion has become a universal virtue. Because of this one man, women and children are now valued on par with men. But most important of all is that, because of this one man, a bridge has been built between earth and heaven. All who put their faith in Jesus can cross that bridge and enjoy His presence for all of eternity.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” John 3:16-17 (NIV)

            Today is a day to reflect upon the results of being unprepared and unaware. Today is a day to reflect upon the potential that can be released when people are awakened to a need. Today is a day to reflect upon the one event that truly changes everything.

Galatians 4:4-5 (NIV)
But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


John 1:14 (NIV)
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

            I was very excited and nervous. President Gerald Ford was scheduled to visit Wheaton College. The Wheaton Men’s Glee Club, of which I was a member, was selected to sing for him. The prospect of actually seeing the President of the United States up close was exhilarating. We practiced with greater enthusiasm and intensity as the day drew near. Then the day came, and there I was seated on the stage, just a few feet away from where the President would stand. Edman Chapel was abuzz with excitement as the gathered crowd waited in eager anticipation for the President’s arrival. No one knew exactly at what moment he would come or from which door he would emerge. Then someone gave the signal, the band began to play Hail to the Chief, and the doors at the back of the chapel flung open to reveal the President. He strode down the center aisle, smiling and shaking hands. Then he mounted the steps and took he seat on stage, just a few feet away. I could hardly believe my eyes. There was the President of the United States, in the flesh.  

            There is something powerful about encountering a person in person. You can read about them, and even observe them from afar, but nothing compares to meeting them “in the flesh.”

            As John began to write his gospel account of Jesus’ life, he chose to focus on the reality and glory of the incarnation. Matthew and Luke chose to begin their gospels with the nativity. Mark skipped Jesus’ birth altogether and began with the inauguration of Jesus’ public ministry. John took a very different approach.

            John began with words that would have resonated in the hearts of every Jew who read them; “In the beginning.” Those words transport us back to Genesis 1:1. John doesn’t start his account at the birth of Jesus, but before time itself began. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. John was looking at Jesus through a telescope. Jesus was far away, unreachable, incomprehensible. He focused on the majesty and glory of the one who was, before anything came to be.

            Then the doors of heaven are flung open and the most amazing thing happens. The Word shows up on earth “in the flesh.” John makes three very important points about this heavenly invasion.

            The Word became flesh. There has long been a debate over the exact nature of Jesus. Was he divine? Was he human? Was he somehow both? John makes it very clear that the Word took on human form and became like us. Paul expands on this in Philippians 2. Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! Philippians 2:6-8 (NIV)

            The Word made his dwelling among us. The unapproachable God became approachable in Jesus. He wasn't like the Wizard of Oz who hid himself behind a facade of smoke and mirrors. Jesus lived life with us, among us, like us. Hebrews tells us that he faced all the challenges of life that we face. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin. Hebrews 4:15 (NIV)

            The Word revealed his glory. So many prominent people live behind an artificial façade that hides the real person. John says that he was an eyewitness to the reality of Jesus. He walked with him and experienced life’s challenges with him. Through all of John’s experiences with Jesus, what showed through was the glory of God. Jesus wasn't one person in public and another in private. Jesus displayed his glory in every situation.

            There are many amazing things about this time of the year. The Christmas story is full of human drama and delight. It warms our hearts. It invites us into the joy of new life and hope for the future. But the most amazing thing of all about Christmas is that the Word became flesh. The eternal one became temporal and invited us to encounter him. The helpless baby, who was dependent upon a young girl, was the very one who created all that there is!

            The true message of Christmas is that we have seen God “in the flesh!”

Saturday, December 1, 2012


            My wife and I sat at the dinner table the other night talking about Christmas. We were trying to make some plans. The Christmas season can go by so fast. It can become a blur of activity that seems to rush by us at warp speed. Sometimes in the rush of Christmas, the things that we really want to do get crowded out by all the other things that come along. Without a plan of action, the season is over and done before a person has time to act. So we sat at our table and talked about what we would like to do while our children are home, who we want to invite over, what gatherings we want to host.

            Before the world began, God had a plan for Christmas. The first Christmas did not come as a surprise for God. In fact, he orchestrated it down to the last detail.

            A big question every year is where we will celebrate Christmas as an extended family. God chose the place for this first Christmas event. "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 (NIV)

            Another big question is when we will celebrate Christmas. What day will we get together and at what time? God chose the time for this first Christmas event. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Galatians 4:4-5 (NIV)

            Our family has grown and scattered. For the first time, we are facing the logistics of getting everyone home at the same time to celebrate. God arranged for “the family” to be present at this first Christmas event. In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. Luke 2:1-4 (NIV)

            We like to include other people in our Christmas celebration. We will often plan a couple of Christmas events where we will invite friends from church or international students to join us. God chose who he would invite as guests to this first Christmas event. 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, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Luke 2:8-12 (NIV)
            After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "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." Matthew 2:1-2 (NIV)

            Our plans often have to be adjusted. We run into unforeseen conflicts and complications that force us to modify our plans. God flawlessly executed his plan. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. Luke 2:20 (NIV)

            Christmas is an annual celebration that is approached with much anticipation and excitement. Every year, at this time, God calls the whole world, whether they believe in Him or not, to reflect upon His eternal plan. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 (NIV)

            How will you be a part of God’s Christmas plans this year?