Category Archives: Christmas

Brute Force Was Too Weak

Emily was dying of leukemia. Everything the doctors tried hadn’t stopped the disease.  Traditional treatments for cancer bombard the body with poison and radiation, but when those things didn’t work, a new, experimental treatment was tried on Emily.  Instead of trying to pound the disease into submission with brute force, they took tiny immune system cells from her body and modified their DNA.  When these tiny cells were put back into her body, they began to kill the cancerous cells.  Today, 3 years later, Emily is a normal, healthy fifth grader.  I’ve included a link to this really cool story below.

But it got me thinking: When God looked down and saw the Earth, overrun by the deadly cancer of sin, heading inevitably toward death and destruction, He did not bombard it with raw power.  He did not flood it with poison, radiation, or even flood waters, as He had unsuccessfully done in early days.  Instead, He sent a tiny, helpless baby, Who came with a new DNA: eternal life.  His therapy for the curse set loose on this planet seemed too small, too powerless to ever prevail over such a terrible disease.  And yet, His cure is spreading, one person at a time, as each one believes and is reborn.

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.  (John 5:24)

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.  (Joy to the World)

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Here is the link:  http://www.nbcnews.com/health/cancer/gene-editing-huge-leap-forward-fight-against-cancer-n484716

The Champ

The family that won the title for the most Christmas lights in 2014 hung 601,736 lights. However, their record was surpassed by God, Who lit only one light.

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.  –  ( Isaiah 9:2)

How could one light beat out more than 600,000? God’s light spread and multiplied. What sort of light could do that? John said it like this:

In him [Jesus] was life, and the life was the light of men. (John 1:4 My parenthetical note)

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.  –  ( John 1:9)

Now, if the light that shone in the darkness is the life that was in Jesus, how did it become “the light of men?”

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. –  ( John 1:11-13)

Life begins with birth. Since God’s light is life, it is multiplied through the process of birth in those who receive it. No mere physical birth, it is nothing less than the birth in a human being of God’s eternal life. As He said it would, this light has spread around the world. 601,736 lights? Not even close…

Really Good News

The town of Raqqa, Syria, used to be a pretty nice place to live.  That is, before ISIS marched in and took over.  Now everyone is forced to live under their draconian laws.  No one is allowed to leave.  A squad of goons patrols the town, looking for people to arrest.  Commonly, those arrested, even for minor offenses, are publicly tortured, mutilated, beheaded or crucified.  In other words, life in Raqqa is not much different from life in Bethlehem when Jesus was born.  Particularly with the public floggings and crucifixions.

Consider that, and read this:

Luke 2:10 — 11 
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Good news?  Really?  Suppose you  lived in Raqqa, trapped and terrified, and an angel came and said, “Good news! A savior has come!”  But then he tells you the savior is an infant, so you are going to have to be patient…   Would that really seem like good news?  Wouldn’t you rather have a savior who was special forces and flew a helicopter? 

Most people felt the same way back in first century Bethlehem.  They didn’t realize their captivity was not primarily to the Romans but to their own self-destructive, sinful urges. As awful as it was to be under the thumb of cruel, pagan conquerors, far worse was the threat of eternal damnation.  Jesus was born as a baby and lived a normal and yet sinless life in order to be qualified to set them (and us) free from captivity to sin.

Joseph received this angelic message in a dream:

Matthew 1:21
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

I am certain there are people in Raqqa today who are discovering this Savior, just as some did in Bethlehem.  His salvation is just as powerful today as it was then, bringing peace and freedom despite dark and desperate circumstances.  Jesus gives eternal life that not even ISIS can destroy.  And that really is good news for all the people.”

We’ll Leave the Light On

Once again, I watched “Close Encounters,” one of the best movies ever made.  Do you remember the scene, early in the movie, in which the people who had seen or sensed the presence of the aliens gathered on the hillside, lighting lights to welcome them?  Remember how they watched and waited, eagerly anticipating their coming? 

It would be nice if Christmas lights were lit with that same attitude, watching and waiting, eagerly anticipating the coming of our Lord.  Perhaps they once were, back before Christmas became flattened and homogenized into “Happy Holidays.”  But you and I can light welcoming lights year round, not on our gutters and bushes but in our attitudes and actions.  Watching and waiting, as many once did for His birth.

David said it like this:

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;  my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.  O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love,and with him is plentiful redemption.  And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.(Psalm 130:5-7)

Going from How? to Wow!

“Greatly troubled” probably doesn’t even come close to describing Mary’s reaction when Gabriel popped out of the closet.  And then he said, “Don’t be scared, I just came to tell you God wants you to have His Baby.  If Mary was hyperventilating before, I’m guessing she notched it up a bit, thinking, “What?  God wants His Son to come and live in me???”  Imagine.

As preposterous a request as that was, God sends a similar one to you.  He wants His Son to be born in you and live in your soul forever.  On one level, that is more of a privileged invitation than a mere request.  But it is not unusual, when people hear that amazing invitation for the first time to respond as Mary did.  First, “greatly troubled” (read: frightened down deep). 

But then, confused.  Mary said, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” ( Luke 1:34b)  She knew she was unqualified, in a sense, not good enough to have a baby.  Our question is similar: “Me?  God wants Jesus to live in me???  Doesn’t He know how I have been living, what I have been thinking?  There’s no way I could be qualified!  How could that possibly happen?”

The answer is the same as Gabriel gave Mary:

The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.   – (Luke 1:35b)

And who gets to have that new birth?  Everyone who, like Mary, believes and says, “Let it be done to me according to your word.”  –  (Luke 1:38b)

Unlikely but Certain

Shepherds near here live in rustic, tiny wagons with rounded tops.  Pretty shabby accomodations but then shepherds are on the bottom of the food chain; they don’t command per diem expense accounts in fancy hotels.  Same thing was true in biblical days: shepherds were considered to be a pretty low and sleazy lot. 

Kings, on the other hand, jet around the world in private, posh comfort and command the highest respect and fanciest privileges.  As they have for thousands of years.  (Ok, they didn’t have Lear Jets back in the Bible days, but you get the idea…)

These days, the nations surrounding Israel want to wipe her off the map and take her land for themselves.  As was also the case a few hundred years before Christ.  And, just as they were about to conquer Israel, God made this astonishing promise:

“Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us;
with a rod they strike the judge of Israel
on the cheek. But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.
And he shall be their peace.  (Micah 5:1-5a)

Quick paraphrase.  God said, You, Israel, are about to get wiped out by your pagan neighbors.  But after you have been destroyed and things look hopeless, I will send you a King Who will be a Shepherd to His people.  His mother will give birth to Him in Bethlehem, the least likely of places.  But eventually, His reign will be accomplished by My unlimited power.  He will incorporate people from every nation into His flock and His reign will be supreme even to the ends of the earth.  He will bring peace because He will be peace. This may seem unlikely, but it is going to happen, because I planned and ordained His coming from ancient days past.

His birth was extremely unlikely.  But it happened, just as God said it would.

His dual role as Shepherd/King seemed like a ridiculous oxymoron.  And yet He affirmed both.

Perhaps least likely of all, that anyone one man could reign supreme to the ends of the earth and bring peace.  But His reign is already being established, growing and spreading around the globe.   Unlikely, but certain. 

Getting Through

How freaked out would you be if God sent you a messenger to tell you, “I heard you when you prayed about…. (fill in the blank with some private prayer)?  I was thinking about that when I read about the angel telling Zechariah,

…“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. ( Luke 1:13b)

Would you pray any differently if you were sure God was listening?  When you send an email you might question if it will be received and read.  But when you pick up the phone and actually speak to someone you can be more sure they are hearing what you say.  Better yet with Skype when you can tell they are actually paying attention.  But how can you know God is listening?

If we want to be heard by God, Jesus taught us to pray privately, simply and sincerely.

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.  –  ( Mat 6:6-7)

He also taught His disciples to pray directly to God because their prayers would get though without any intercession on His part.  He said:

“In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.  (John 16:26-27)

Jesus assured us of a direct line to the Father Who loves us.  Next time you pause to pray, remember:  “your prayers have been heard!”

To Lie Down in Peace

Next year I’m going to be selling a line of Black Friday helmets and protective gear, along with a self-test concussion assessment. Good idea? I think so and I hope your BF bruises are beginning to heal. Ah, yes: each year our anticipation of Christmas gets more and more exciting!

Before the birth of Christ, there was also great anticipation of His coming but for slightly different reasons. One of them was they knew this promise from God, written by the prophet, Ezekiel:

I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice. – (Ezekiel 34:15-16)

Perhaps you can relate to the sheep. When sheep lie down, it is because they are at peace – no threats, real or imagined to stir them up. No pacing about with anxious bleating. How would you like to find peace like that this Christmas? Maybe you understand what it feels like to be lost. Or to have strayed and not know how to find your way back. Perhaps you’ve been injured in life, or feel weak or oppressed. The promise of God was to be a shepherd for His people. He said “I myself will make them lie down…” No wonder there was such a yearning for His coming, such anticipation for the One Whose Name would be “God with Us.”

Regardless of how you spent Black Friday and Cyber Monday, my prayer is that this season you will find the One Who called Himself the “Good Shepherd,” the One in Whom we can truly lie down in peace.

And if you want to get in on the helmet thing, let me know…

Words of a Stranger

Perhaps he was known by most as “that crazy old geezer.”  But he was not crazy; he was eccentric – dialed in to a different station.  Luke says “The Holy Spirit was upon him.”  Wow…   Think of the turmoil in Israel during that time, as everyone had to register in his family home town.  Roman soldiers were stomping around, belligerently exercising their positions of privilege and power.  It was not a time to be expecting anything hopeful.  Most people were focused on simply getting through the day without running afoul of the guys with the whips and crosses.

But not this guy.

“It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” (Luke 2:26)

Knowing that the Messiah was about to show up, he spent his final days hanging out up at the temple.  Watching.  Waiting.  And, somehow (Holy Spirit again, no doubt), when Mary and Joseph brought their 8 day old Son to be consecrated, the “crazy old geezer” knew Who it was.  How many people were thronging through the temple that day?  How many babies were being carried through that massive courtyard?  What can you see of a baby who is wrapped up in “swaddling clothes?”  But Simeon was watching, waiting and he knew Who the baby was.

“Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “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.”” (Luke 2:28-32)

Again, Wow!   Imagine what was going on in Joseph and Mary’s hearts at that moment.  How amazed and exhilarated…    But Simeon was dialed in to a different station and he was not done.  After praising God for this Good News, he chilled their bones with this:

“Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”” (Luke 2:34-35)

I wonder who it was Mary told about this astonishing and yet horrifying encounter.  I can’t imagine how she felt that day.  Or, how she felt, calling those words to mind when they had been violently fulfilled.

Oh, wow…

Quotes:  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Listen to This!

“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.” (Luke 2:16-18)

“Blog” sounds like something you stepped in and stuck to your shoe.  But it’s the best I got.  The best way I know to “spread the word” about what I found, what I’ve seen and heard, but mostly about what I’ve experienced since I made my way “to the manger.”

I was raised in a “Christian” family, which, in the 50’s mostly meant we went to church every week because that’s what everybody did.  My folks believed in Jesus in much the same way they believed in Santa Claus.

(spoiler alert: Virginia, you might want to stop reading)

They pretended to believe in Santa, just like everyone else believed in Santa, because, if they did, it made Christmas nicer.  Trouble was, they also had to act on Santa’s behalf to make him seem real.  Santa’s bills showed up in their mail.  They took the same approach with Jesus.  “We know He wasn’t really any different than you and me, but He sure said some wonderful things in the Sermon on the Mount.”  My dad, who was an elder at the church for years, eventually told me he didn’t believe Jesus was ever really a person – just a myth that had developed over the years to help people get through life better.  Consequently, he also believed it was up to him to measure up to all the moral standards, to make Jesus seem real in his life.

Remember when you discovered that Santa was a lie that everyone else was in on  except you?  That’s how I felt about Jesus when I began to discover how skin deep faith was for most of the people I had grown up trusting.  I resolved to never, ever again buy into any religion or myth.  I hated the idea of playing “let’s pretend” in real life.

About the time I turned 38, I began to feel a steady pull to draw closer to God, even though I did not believe in Him.  A series of weird, seemingly coincidental experiences heightened this desire.  Also heightened was my determination to not be fooled.  But one day these two contradictory impulses came to a head.  Jesus showed me Who He was.  If you had been there you would not have seen Him.  But for me to describe the events of that day in a lesser way would be dishonest.  One day, I too found myself kneeling at the manger – figuratively speaking.  I discovered Jesus and surrendered to Him, because I knew He was God.

I had no idea what to expect.  Best way to describe it is that I became alive in a way I had never known was possible.  The line from Amazing Grace, “was blind but now I see” is a pretty good description.  And Jesus began to live in me, making gradual, steady changes in how I saw life and how I responded in life.  He is doing it, not me.  This new life is exhilarating and is still growing, almost 30 years later.

The shepherds stumbled out of town, grabbing anyone they met to try to tell them how excited they were.  No doubt most of those people thought they being accosted by drunks or madmen.  But they had to do it; they couldn’t keep silent about such good news.  Me?  I blog.  Merry Christmas.

Quotes:  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.