Away In A Manger

“And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.” – Luke 2:6-7.

Children today are born in pristine operating rooms. Once they arrive, they are wrapped in a soft, warm blanket and placed in a spotless crib in the pristine nursery. And once the stay at the hospital is over the baby is brought home to a pristine home nursery months in the making. Such a marked difference from the story we see unfold in scripture of another baby’s birth.

Mary and Joseph were traveling to Bethlehem because of a census decreed by Caesar Augustus. A very pregnant Mary traveled with Joseph to the town of his family to be counted. When they arrived, they discovered there was no room at the inn. Luke 2:7 says: “She (Mary) wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger because there was no lodging available for them.” At first, you might think that where Jesus was born was a fluke of fate — a random misfortune. But the Bible suggests otherwise. The prophet Micah lived seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus and prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem:“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf.” (Micah 5:2 )So God had planned the arrival of His Son in the right place, at the right time, and in the right way. He chooses Mary and Joseph, who lived in Nazareth, not Bethlehem. And He plans for Mary to get pregnant far from the prophesied town and He arranges to move Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem by means of an empire-wide census. He could have arranged for an available room but didn’t because Jesus was lying in exactly the place God planned: a manger.

The manger was a sign to the shepherds.”And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Every baby in Bethlehem was wearing swaddling cloths so that didn’t narrow the field at all. No the manger was the sign and a glorious sign it was. No sooner were the words out of the angel’s mouth — “you will find a baby . . . lying in a manger” — than “Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” (Luke 2:13–14)

The manger was step one on the road to Calvary. The Savior’s life starts low and ends lower. This is the point of Philippians 2:6–8: “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”

This is how the Savior saves. This is how the Messiah fulfills all the promises.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Jesus went from a throne in heaven to a manger in a stable. How does this single act demonstrate how much God loves each and every one of us?
  2. How do we keep the manger in our minds on a daily basis? 

A Thrill of Hope, The Weary World Rejoices.

 “O Holy night, the stars are brightly shining…It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth…Long lay the world in sin and error pining…till He appeared and the soul felt it’s worth…A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices…For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn…”

We picture the birth of Jesus as a Thomas Kinkade painting: stars shining, angels singing, wise men bringing gifts, the cattle gently lowing as they hum the newborn Savior off to sleep. As we imagine this pastoral scene we see Mary smiling and Joseph beaming.  We don’t see a mother who just gave birth or a father who had a lot on his mind after a very difficult journey.  

But this was not the scene. Jesus was not born into the technological marvels that are our hospitals today. Nor was He born into the civilized society of today. He was born into a completely different time. For example,  Jesus was born into a day and age where the rulers of the land, could command the murder of every baby under the age of two. Biblical times could be very desperate. Jesus was not born of wealth and greatness, strength, and supremacy. He did not arrive like we would expect a ruler and hero would. He came to earth as a newborn, fragile, and indefensible. His first home, a stable – not a palace, or even a temple. But a small building full of smelly animals.

This baby who is called, “Wonderful, Teacher, Powerful God, Father Who Lives Forever, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6), was born to an unknown man. This baby who was God in the flesh was born to a peasant girl in a stable. Think about that for a second: if God injected himself into the world in the most humble circumstances, then there is indeed nowhere and no one where His presence, love, grace, and holiness cannot be housed and hope found. Hope in the form of a Savior born on a holy night so many years ago. 

Luke included in his narrative the miraculous and mysterious events surrounding the mundane, utterly normal, yet all-together glorious birth of Jesus Luke 2:8-14. Little did Luke know that these words, written to a first-century audience, would still bring hope and awaken faith over two thousand years later. After all the centuries, the incarnation brings comfort to this weary world.

You may be hunting for hope this holiday season. The good news is you always have hope in Jesus. The thrill of hope that the world felt when Jesus finally arrived thousands of years ago in the manger in Bethlehem is still the hope that you and I have today. And for that, we should be grateful for that holy night in Bethlehem.   

Christmas Rescue

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:45. 

This passage cuts to the heart of why Jesus had to come. He came to give His very life to save ours. He was born into the world so that He could die for the world. Jesus came to rescue us: “What an agonizing situation I am in! So who has the power to rescue this miserable man from the unwelcome intruder of sin and death? I give all my thanks to God, for his mighty power has finally provided a way out through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One…” (Romans 7:24-25)

Jesus rescued us. He paid our debt. And the fact of the matter is He continues to rescue us. Think of it this way: After work, you walk over to your car to drive home. But your car won’t start because the battery is dead. You need a jump. There is nobody around so you call a friend and ask them if they could come and jump the battery.  It’s late and it is cold, so you hate to bother them, but you really need their help. The friend grabs their jacket and heads out to help you in your time of need.  That is a true friend because you matter to them. They are someone who can be counted on and that only deepens the friendship between you.  

God planned to save us from the consequences of our wrongs and restore our relationship with Him. We can’t do this ourselves. Since we’re already imperfect, there’s no way to become perfect again. We can’t reach up to God, so He reached down to us by sending a Rescuer, Jesus.

God came to earth as a human, Jesus, to sacrifice Himself for us. Christmas is the celebration of the Rescuer arriving — a celebration of the birth of Jesus. Think about this: When God came to earth, He started out in the same weak and vulnerable state as the rest of us.  Jesus lived a human life from infanthood to adulthood, with all of life’s challenges. He did what we could not: He lived a perfect life.

Jesus then opened the final act of the rescue plan. He sacrificed Himself to break down the barrier between God and people and restore our relationship with God. On Good Friday, Jesus sacrificed Himself by dying in our place. Jesus’ perfect life allowed Him to stand in our place and take the penalty for our wrongdoings. But why did Jesus have to die? Couldn’t God just rescue us without a sacrifice? God is loving, but He’s also just, so He can’t ignore wrongdoing and its consequences. The ultimate consequence for all of our wrongdoing is separation from God, or spiritual death. Someone had to pay that price, so God came to earth in the form of Jesus to pay it for us. But the rescue plan doesn’t end with Good Friday. Jesus didn’t stay dead; His separation from God wasn’t forever. On Easter, Jesus broke free from death, coming back to life to complete the rescue mission.

I hope we celebrate Christmas this year for what it is – as a daring rescue and to fall in love again with our amazing Savior.  

Discussion Question:

  1. Have you ever thought of Christ coming to earth as a rescue? 
  2. What can we do this week to be thankful and grateful for being rescued?

Focus on Christ This Christmas

“O come, all ye faithful; Joyful and triumphant. O come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem. Come and behold Him. Born the King of Angels! O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him. Christ the Lord”

Christmas is special. It’s a seemingly simple story, a baby born in a manger, but it changed everything. The birth of Jesus meant the Messiah had come. Jesus’ birth broke the separation between God and man. His coming was anything but simple; it changed everything then and everything for us today.

Christmas has become hyper-commercialized. It’s hard to not get caught up in the magic of the season. Most of us love this season and yet we really struggle to break from our traditions. Sadly, the holiday is becoming mostly about parties, sweets, decorations, and a pile of presents that puts last year’s to shame. But that is not what Christmas is about.

We can take steps to redeem Christmas. Amidst all the commercialization, and the glazed-look of holiday shoppers faces, we can remember that, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Christmas is not about buying gifts. Christmas is a birthday. And not just any birthday. But the birthday of Jesus Christ the Messiah, the Savior of the world.

All the fanfare around Christmas prompts a simple, but convicting question: Why am I was so focused on myself during someone else’s birthday celebration? I am not the reason for the season, Jesus is. In all of the hustle and bustle of doing things for Jesus I somehow was forgetting to connect with Jesus.

As Christmas gets closer, it is important to take time to focus and connect with Jesus on a personal level. Yeah, it is a busy time of the year, but it is a time that we celebrate the birth of the Messiah. We’re running and we’re rushing and I wonder if we can hear our Father’s voice from heaven if he would sound something like this: “Hey, hey, hey. It’s called Christmas because it’s about Christ.” It’s not called Giftmas or Decorationmas or Perfect Family Picturemas.

Since we are celebrating His birthday, it is appropriate for us to give Him a gift. For those of us that have children we realize that time spent with our kids is more valuable than any gift they can buy for us. So, consider giving Jesus the gift of your time. It doesn’t even have to be large quantities of time, but just being aware and connecting with Him in the moments of your day. As you are doing your job, or going to school, etc., connect with Him is some small way.  This is His birthday. Make sure that you take some time to make it about Him.

This Christmas find a quiet room, lock the door, leave the phone in your pocket. I want you to breathe in and breathe out and think, “It’s about Jesus.”

Discussion Question:

  1. What have you done to celebrate Christmas the last few years? What are you going to do different this year? 
  2. Name two ways you will focus on jesus this holiday season? 

Remembering God’s Faithful Love

“But then I recall all you have done, O Lord;  I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.” – Psalm 77:11.

Remembrance is an important element of human activity.  We remember birthdays, anniversaries, and special events.  We remember things that happened in our lives and the lives of loved ones, but can we truly remember things we have not lived through?  Psalm 77 says that we can. 

Because, in the span of all of history, God remembered us.  So this holiday season—complete with party invitations, packages to wrap, trees to decorate, and dozens of other fun activities vying for our attention—let’s remember why we celebrate Christmas. God loved us so much that He sent His Son to die for our sins so that we can be in a relationship with Him. Invest in that relationship. Prioritize time with Him. And remember. 

Unfortunately, for most of us, it seems life’s accelerator gets stuck to the floor the week of Thanksgiving and stays wide open until we coast into the first week of the new year. We are so overwhelmed that we fail to pause and to reflect on the meaning of Christmas. But it shouldn’t be that way. We may celebrate Christmas, but do we take time to remember who God is and what He is done in our lives? 

The word remember is used 245 times in the King James version of the Old Testament. God reminds His people often that He will “remember” the covenant He made. He will not forget what He has promised. But God also admonishes His people to, “Remember the Lord your God.” There are so many passages that call us to remember the greatness of God. “be careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 6:12) 

We need to remember simply because we are too quick to forget. We don’t spend enough time remembering God’s faithfulness to us, to remember the times He’s been there for us or acted on our behalf. We should be reminded of what God has done throughout 2020 in sustaining us and bringing us to the threshold of another year. God is so faithful. As I Samuel 7:12 says, “…Up to this point the Lord has helped us.”

God has certainly helped us to this day. He has strengthened us, comforted us, loved us, forgiven us, delivered us, guided us, empowered and blessed us, and answered our prayers time and again. God doesn’t want us to forget His goodness. That is why He told the Israelites time and time again to remember Him and all the things He has done “It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me.” ( Daniel 4:2 NIV)

Let’s do whatever we can to remember our God and all He has done for us. And may His faithfulness of yesterday make us trust Him today and give us hope for tomorrow.

Discussion Question:

  1. How do you feel when you have to keep reminding people to do things? How do you think God feels when He keeps reminding us not to forget Him? 
  2. What did this devotional teach you about remembering God?

O Holy Night

“All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:“Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.” — Matthew 1:22-23

You’ll hear “O Holy Night” sung in practically every style, from gospel to choral, to country, to pop. But no matter what genre, it is hard to sing. It’s a solo, for one thing, with tempos and soaring sustained notes not meant for unskilled singers. Back in the old days, there were a number of audible sighs when O Holy Night was being sung. But it is a beautiful song about a holy night that changed history.

Jesus came to earth as a baby, born of a woman, to change the world. At no time of the year are we more reminded of just how much He has changed the world than at Christmas. In Philippians 2:6-8, Paul tells us of the glory of Christmas. “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.Instead, he gave up his divine privileges he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” Paul is reminding us why the night on which Jesus was born was such a Holy Night. The entire Old Testament, from Genesis to Malachi, points to the birth of Jesus Christ.

The line in the song that stood out to me the most was the line, “the soul felt its worth.” Many people struggle with this idea of worth.  We too readily listen to people tell us “you’re never going to amount to anything.”  Or“You’re not smart”  and we carry those narratives with us. Most people struggle with trying to earn their own righteousness. We are wired for the law. We don’t understand grace. I think the more we can show people that their worth is not the issue, the better they will understand it.   

The message of the gospel is the message that although you are unworthy, He (God) deems you as having unending value and worth. He proved it by living and dying and taking our sin upon Himself and conquering death through the resurrection.  You cannot read the Christmas story and not come to the conclusion that in the eyes of God humanity has deep, deep worth and value. Since the resurrection, followers of Jesus have been reminded that for some reason we are of great worth to the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  

We can throw our misgivings and our personal appraisals out the window. They are not relevant. What is relevant is the fact that Jesus took on flesh, lived a perfect life, died on a cross for you and for me. As we celebrate the day of His birth, remember that you are deeply loved by the King of kings.  In His eyes you’re worth it.  Think about that for a second..you are worth it.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you balance your worth with Christ dying on the cross for you? 
  2. What is the best way to celebrate the holy night of Christmas?

Adopted Children

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” – Galatians 4:4-7 (ESV). 

I don’t think most Christians would identify themselves as sons and daughters of God. Yes, we were created by God, but do we really grasp what it means to be the adopted children of God. Grasping that God has adopted me would change everything. That means we would truly understand that God loves us with unending love. He has chosen me and called me His own. 

Galatians 4:-5 says – “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children” Verse 7 adds, “Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.”

It’s all God. Start to finish, it’s God. It’s Father, Son, Spirit, working together to make us children of God. His beloved. His precious adopted children. All we need is faith and the commitment to be His children.  We need a childlike love and a childlike faith in our Abba, Father.  

The heart of God is that His people would know they are His sons and daughters. He wants us to know who we are to Him – which is to say, He wants us to know who we are to the only One who has the authority to define us: our Creator, our Lord, our King. We are His sons. We are His daughters. If our faith is in Him, this is who we are. Over and above anything and everything else, this is who we are.

In the secular world, adoption was usually for the benefit of the adoptive parents, not for the benefit of the child. For example, a farmer might want help with tilling his land, or a childless couple might want someone to look after them in old age, or an aristocrat might want someone to perpetuate the family name. In the New Testament, the benefits are all the other way. While we may be sure that adoption gives God immense satisfaction, He never adopts in order to meet some need of His own. He adopts us because He loves us. And because He loves us, He showers upon us every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3) and fills our lives with the melody of joy and victory (Psalm 118:15).

The whole reason for Christmas is this: God wants you to be His child. God wants that kind of relationship with you. He wants you to experience the intimacy, the privileges, that come from being His child.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does knowing God as your Father impact the way you view your relationship with Him?
  2. How does viewing God as your Father impact the way you approach Him in prayer?

Joy To The World

“For seven days you must celebrate this festival to honor the Lord your God at the place he chooses, for it is he who blesses you with bountiful harvests and gives you success in all your work. This festival will be a time of great joy for all.” – Deuteronomy 16:15. 

Is there any better feeling than the intense feelings of satisfaction and joy? Take a moment and reflect on what causes those moments of satisfaction and joy. Are those moments created internally or do we need external help? Or both? One thing is certain, everyone is looking for joy. Everyone wants it and seeks after it, but can we deliver it? And if not, who can? Reading through scriptures, we see that joy is important.

Real joy comes from God, who sought us, found us, and keeps us. He has poured out His love through the Holy Spirit whom He has given us. Romans 5:5 says, “And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.”  Joy comes from God, not from within. When we look within, we see joy in all the wrong places. We have joy only when we look outside ourselves to Christ. Joy is not something we can conjure up.

The joy offered by God joy is different than the one promised at a local restaurant or amusement park. God is not interested in putting a temporary smile on your face. He has no interest in giving you shallow happiness that melts in the heat of adversity. Rather, He offers you a deep-seated, heart-felt, honest-to-goodness, resilient sense of joy that can weather the storms in our lives. 

Peter referred to this in 1 Peter 1:8-9: “You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.”

Christmas is a time of great joy. It begins by receiving the great gift which brought joy to the heart of the Father in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.  “…But to all who received him, he gave the right to become children of God. All they needed to do was to trust him to save them”  (John 1:12 TLB) How can I experience the “peace on earth”’ and “joy” during Christmas with so much busyness leading up to the holiday? The answer lies in Jesus Christ alone. Joy in your heart, in your personal life, is part of the gift of Christmas, the gift which difficulty, or pain, or even loneliness should never take from you. Christmas joy is the abiding presence of a living Christ.  In 2020, we need to believe in that joy.

What Jesus said to his followers, He says to you. “I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” (John 15:11).

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever felt the peace and joy of the Lord in surprising ways? How? 
  2. Read John 15:9-12. Jesus wants us to have His joy and the fullness of His life. What is His joy? What can we do this week to have that kind of joy? 

Now in Flesh Appearing

 ” He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.” –  John 1:11-13. 

“He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.” That verse has to be one of the most gut wrenching verses in the New Testament.

Jesus, the Messiah, the great I AM, the King of kings, the Alpha and Omega, the Author and Finisher of our faith, Author of life, almighty God in flesh, yet when He came to His very own chosen people, they did not accept Him. Think a minute about what that means for us when we feel alone, deserted, misunderstood, or forgotten. We have a Savior who has experienced being rejected by people He loved. He knows because He has experienced it firsthand. He knows what it’s like to be rejected by those for whom He made major sacrifices. 

God chose the nation of Israel to be His special people – returned to the place that He created and to the people that He chose, but  “…those who should have recognized him, but they did not receive him.rejected Him.” And so “He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.” (Isaiah 53:3 ) God came to earth as Israel’s Messiah but Israel, His own chosen, covenanted people, did not receive Him. 

We probably wonder while Israel rejected Jesus, given all the evidence and testimony we read about in the Bible. Surely, if nothing else they would believe their eyes or eyewitnesses. Raising people from the dead, donkeys talking, feeding the 5,000, healing the blind and the paralytic, etc. But before we question the ancient Israelites, perhaps we should evaluate how well we see Jesus today. Like the Israelites in the first century if you don’t want to see Jesus you won’t. It takes willingness, initiative, and a “want to” to see Him. Over and over again in the Gospel of John, we read these words: “Come and see.” To the two disciples of John who questioned where Jesus was living, Jesus replied: “Come and you will see” (John 1:39 NIV). Nathanael questioned if anything good could come out of Nazareth, referring to Jesus. Philip said, “Come and see” (John 1:46 NIV). That is exactly what Nathaniel did. Rather than reject Jesus, he came and saw and came to this conclusion: ““Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” (John 1:49 NIV)

We need to see Jesus for ourselves. We have heard about Him from others; now we are invited to see for ourselves, to experience Him first hand. Today may be the chance of a lifetime to see Jesus. We have the opportunity to not only see Him but to accept Him as our Lord and Savior.  

Discussion Question:

  1. Is it hard to see Jesus today? Why or why not? 
  2. What can we do this Christmas season to see Jesus more clearly? 

Come Let Us Adore Him

“O come, all ye faithful; Joyful and triumphant. O come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem. Come and behold Him. Born the King of Angels! O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him. Christ the Lord”

We’ve sung the words a thousand times: “O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant…O come let us adore Him.” It is a Christmas tradition like so many others. Every Christmas season comes around, we look forward to putting up a tree, giving and receiving gifts, and participating in other traditions that make this wonderful time of year so special. But sometimes the most significant aspect of the season — remembering and focusing on the coming of Jesus — grows old and familiar. 

We envy the shepherds who actually saw the baby Jesus, and returned with a message of adoration and joy that pierced the midnight air. We can’t join them in Bethlehem, but that doesn’t stop us marveling at God with us, and heeding the invitation to come and adore Him.

Do we adore the risen Savior or do we unintentionally undervalue Him in some way? Have we become so accustomed to His grace and love, His mercy, His forgiveness, that we take the Creator of the universe for granted? It’s like living in a beachfront condo that we stop appreciating the beautiful gulf view after a period of time. Or walking past your brightly-lit Christmas tree because you have been looking at it for over a week. Both were truly amazing initially, but have now become just part of the background. Or you used to stare up to a starry sky and the magnitude of it all took your breath away, but now you don’t look towards the heavens that much anymore.  

Jesus can be that way. He can blend into the background of blessed lives, sparkling holidays, and warm family get-togethers. God can take a back seat. “O come, let us adore Him” should refresh our perspectives and rejuvenate our love and adoration for our Lord and Savior.

We are called to adore Jesus. That’s what Christmas reminds us to do every year. The wise men bowed and worshipped him, brought gifts, and rejoiced when they found Him. We can learn a lot from the three Magi. We need to have a surrendered heart (bowing down) when we come to Him. He is the king of kings. We should approach Him in the same way. We also need to give Him our gift of worship. That is our sacrifice to Him. Finally, we need to have hearts filled with joy. When we surrender our heart and give our worship to Jesus, the result is a heart that is filled with joy. Come let us adore Him on this Christmas day.

This Christmas, tell Jesus how much you adore Him and why. In addition, give yourself time to be alone each day during the season to talk with Jesus directly, giving Him your heart-felt adoration.  If we do really adore Him, we will want to introduce Him to others. Someone invited us to come to Jesus, so let’s invite others to attend our Christmas Eve services. 

Discussion Question:

  1. What have you learned about God’s presence through your setbacks and in the hard places? 
  2. How does the fact that God is always with us impact how you live your life?