Seek And You Will Find

Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” ― Matthew 7:7. 

They’ve got a song. They’ve got a bumper sticker that is also an idiom. They’re always dressed like royalty with flowing robes and glistening crowns. They ride camels and have a fascination with the stars. Who are they? The wise men.  Matthew is the only one of the gospel writers that write about them. Matthew 2:2 says, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” They were true Jesus seekers.

The wise men came in search of a King greater than themselves. They were committed to seeking truth over a very long trip that scholars believe could be 600-900 miles. It was an expensive and difficult journey, but their desire to know was stronger than their desire for comfort. It makes you wonder what they were thinking when they met the young Messiah who was probably several years old by that time.  

You also have to wonder what Joseph and Mary were thinking when some men from a distant land, got down on their knees in front of their child. They were obviously wealthy and learned men who traveled great distances to worship their son and give Him extravagant gifts. Perhaps nothing surprised Joseph and Mary at that point, but you have to think that they were still asking why?  Their son would not ordinarily have received such gifts. The wise men knew this child was different.  And they were right.  

As His life plays out before us on the pages of Scripture, we marvel as He makes “…the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear…”  (Matthew 11:5) Our breath is taken away when, with the words, “…the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” (Matthew 11:5) Our heart breaks as nails are driven through His flesh for our sins. His resurrection secured our victory over death and “…raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:6). It is no wonder that wise men past and present seek Him.  

The wise man sought and found Jesus as a young child. When we seek Him today, we find Him today as the living Christ, clothed with glory and honor and seated at the right hand of His Father in heaven.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. Does it surprise you the sacrifices the wise men made to see the child Jesus? What do you think motivated the wise men to journey so far from home and their refusal to be diverted from their mission?

God With Us

“So God throws open the door of this world—and enters as a baby. As the most vulnerable imaginable. Because He wants unimaginable intimacy with you. What religion ever had a god that wanted such intimacy with us that He came with such vulnerability to us? What God ever came so tender we could touch Him? So fragile that we could break Him? So vulnerable that His bare, beating heart could be hurt? Only the One who loves you to death.” -Ann Voskamp.

There are mysteries that will never truly be solved. Christmas is one of those mysteries because it causes us to reflect and ponder the idea of Immanuel: God with Us. God entered the world as a baby. God entered our little corner of the universe. How do we make sense of that? 

We try to understand the mystery of God with us. But it’s humanly impossible to understand what happened on that first Christmas. The Bible explains what Jesus did this way: “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.” (Philippians 2:5-7). He took the humble position of a slave: imagine the president of the United States leaving all his position and authority and moving to an impoverished third-world country as a slave. But that example doesn’t even come close to what Christ did. Jesus didn’t just look like God, He was always God. Jesus took on human form without changing who He is innately and eternally. How do we understand that? 

What kind of knowledge, creativity, and power did it take for God to become an infant, without becoming one less bit God than He was before? How could He “who fills all things everywhere with himself.” (Ephesians 1:23) confine Himself to a human womb and yet still be able to fill all things?  

Another mystery is that our Savior did it all in order to die in place of the human beings He created. How can we truly appreciate or understand all the lengths He was willing to go to bridge the chasm so we could be called “children of God” (1 John 3:1 ESV)  The fact that, as Christians, we are adopted by God and are his children is amazing. And not red-headed step children, either. In Romans 8:15-17, we read: “…Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory…”  I’m not sure we can comprehend this side of eternity what that means fully.

So on Christmas, consider what our Savior has given up and to what lengths He has gone for the sake of love.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do we put the mystery of God with us in perspective? 
  2. Name one way you can live differently based on the fact of God being with us? 

Christmas Is A Time Of Worship

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 

It’s that time of year again. Here we are, just 12 days out, looking forward to Christmas, again. Looking forward to Christmas is different for different people. Now that you are an adult the Christmas experience is different. You look forward to the presents, you look forward to the excitement, you look forward to spending time with family. But there is also the hustle and bustle this time of year brings that leads to irritability and depression. So we have a decision; we can choose to get bogged down with stress or we can choose to remember the reason for the season.

Scripture gives us a beautiful picture of praise in Luke 2:13-14. When Jesus was born, an angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds sharing the good news. Then many other angels joined together and praised God. That’s not the only place the Bible records angels worshipping the Lord. In Hebrews 1:6 it says, “And when he brought his supreme Son into the world, God said, ‘Let all of God’s angels worship him.'” And Revelation 5:11-12a says, “Then I looked again, and I heard the voices of thousands and millions of angels around the throne and of the living beings and the elders. And they sang in a mighty chorus.” 

Christmas is ultimately about Jesus Christ and the salvation He brings, and the only right response to Jesus is worship. Angels are role models for worship. Angels intentionally and deliberately spend time praising God. Intentional may be a Christian cliché, but it truly cannot be overstated. Our Christian walk is about following Jesus in a broken world, which takes every ounce of our attention, plans, and desires. So let’s be intentional about seeking Him this Christmas.

God provides us many opportunities to worship Him during the Christmas season and every season for that matter. We can worship Him listening to Christmas music; working on a report for work, or when things are quiet and no one is around. Worship is not about us but about God. Worship is our response, both personal and corporate, to God for who He is, and what He has done; expressed in and by the things we say and the way we live. In every daily activity, in every encounter with people, in every circumstance, in every conversation, in every relationship, and in every choice that we make, we learn to increasingly focus on God’s Kingdom, His will and purpose for our lives.   

Today, there are many good things that can distract us from the main point of Christmas: the worship of Jesus Christ. Rather than allow these things to distract us from Christmas, may they be catalysts to propel us toward the worship of our Lord and Savior.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do we worship God?
  2. What can we do this Christmas season to better worship God? 

Fully Engaged

“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me. He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him. His mighty arm has done tremendous things…” – Luke 1:46-51. 

Some years ago, I was invited to a Christmas party. The invitation had one request: “Please don’t bring a gift. Your presence is gift enough.” It sounds easy. Just be present and be engaged. We all have the ability to focus our attention on the present moment and what is before us. But we don’t often do it. We have slowly but surely given up or been conditioned out of full engagement. Who hasn’t sat at their desk working on the computer while their mind wanders off, perhaps planning a summer vacation, or considering restaurant options for dinner, or worrying about the kids, the remodel, the doctor bills—the list is endless. It is difficult to be fully engaged with others and God.

Consider Paul’s advice in his Epistle to the Colossians: “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward and that the Master you are serving is Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24)  Joseph is an example of someone who was fully engaged. He readily obeyed the angel’s command to take Mary as his wife. A further example of Joseph’s obedience is seen in Matthew 2:13-14. After Jesus’ birth, he was told by an angel to take his family to Egypt–quickly. That was still quite an undertaking. To travel by donkey with Mary and young Jesus to an unfamiliar country at least 300 miles away over wilderness terrain was not a Sunday stroll. But Joseph obeyed–promptly (2:14). After they were settled in Egypt, however, Joseph was told to move again–back to Israel. Again Joseph obeyed without raising any questions about practicalities or God’s timetable.

When you are fully engaged with God, it means that you have the faith to obey Him even when things don’t make sense. It means when we are uncertain about our future, worried or afraid, God’s power will come into our lives and give us peace. And unlike our tendencies, God’s engagement is not dependent on our circumstances or how much we are distracted. God does not disengage, we do. God remains fully engaged in our lives at all times . 

Discussion questions:

  1. How can we take responsibility for our engagement with God?  
  2. What can we do this week to become more engaged with God? 

Not That Joseph Either

Joseph of Arimathea took a risk and went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. (Joseph was an honored member of the high council, and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God to come.) Pilate couldn’t believe that Jesus was already dead, so he called for the Roman officer and asked if he had died yet. The officer confirmed that Jesus was dead, so Pilate told Joseph he could have the body. Joseph bought a long sheet of linen cloth. Then he took Jesus’ body down from the cross, wrapped it in the cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a stone in front of the entrance.” – Mark 15:43-46. 

There are three men in Scripture who share the name, Joseph. There’s the Old Testament Joseph, whose amazing story from abandoned brother to Egyptian lord is chronicled in Genesis. Then there’s the New Testament Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, and a third Joseph, who took a risk on faith. 

Jesus had just been crucified. The disciples of Christ were left wondering if the signs and wonders they had seen and the amazing teaching they had heard were not so wonderful and amazing after all. If Jesus truly was the Son of God, how could He die? If Christ really possessed the divine power He claimed to possess, why didn’t He use it. None of it made any sense. 

Joseph of Arimathea probably had these same questions, doubts, and fears. Like everyone else, he had no idea what was going on. He didn’t have the ability to see the future, so he had no way of knowing that the worst thing that had just happened – the death of the Messiah – would become the best thing to ever happen?  He had no way of knowing that this defeat was actually the ultimate victory. At that moment it was not a good time to be associated with Jesus. But Joseph of Arimathea loved his Lord too much to let His body rot on the cross or be ignominiously thrown with other criminals into some shallow public grave. So at great risk to himself and his reputation, he went to the Roman governor Pilate to request Jesus’ body. He gave the crucified Christ a tomb and buried his Lord with honor without knowing that it would all make sense in the long run. 

It’s tempting for us to believe that we would have a lot more peace, obedience, and courage in life if we could only see what God was doing. If only we knew why we had to lose that job; if only we knew why we had to experience that trial; if only we knew why we had to endure that unfaithful spouse. If only we knew then we would live more obediently like Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus and act more courageously like Joseph of Arimathea.

We all experience those moments when life doesn’t make any sense. In these moments, it’s very tempting to question God’s power, goodness, wisdom, and love. When we allow ourselves to doubt the character and commitment of God, we need to trust God.  The tomb that Joseph offered was not a final resting place, but rather the ultimate symbol of God’s complete and final victory over sin and death and His delivery of the forgiveness and new life to all who put their trust in Him. Joseph’s tomb is a sign that points to the grace and redemptive work of God.

Discussion questions:

  1. Why was Joseph of Arimathea taking a risk to ask for the body of Jesus? 
  2. Sometimes we struggle to understand the events of our lives. When life is difficult, how can we make sense of what doesn’t seem to make sense?

Not that Joseph

“When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife.” ― Matthew1:24. 

There are three distinct Josephs in the Bible; the first and probably most well-known is Joseph the son of Jacob. This is the Joseph who is sold into slavery by his brothers, spends years in prison and eventually becomes the prime minister of Egypt. His story is told in the book of Genesis 37-50 and is mentioned in John 4:5: Acts 7:9-18; Hebrews 11:21-22  and Revelation 7:8. The second Joseph was the husband of Mary and the surrogate father of Jesus. The third was Joseph of Arimathea in whose tomb Jesus was laid to rest.

Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus is somewhat of the silent, passive voice in the Christmas event. He doesn’t have a line in the Christmas narrative. In fact, there are no words of Joseph recorded in Scripture. Yet the Gospel accounts remind us that God’s plan for the Incarnation, and Jesus’ birth, included Joseph from the beginning. Joseph is a faithful husband and a caring father. He is a man of faith who listens to God’s messages and then obeys God’s commands, trusting in God’s promises.

He was not passive but focused and intentional in his actions. The quietness of people like Joseph can be overwhelmed by the noise of Christmas music, concerts, television specials, parties, celebrations, and endless advertising. Through all the clamor and sounds of this season, Joseph reminds us of how important it is to hear God’s voice. Through the harried pace of life in this season of the year, Joseph reminds us to be focused, intentional and obedient to Christ in our actions. The example of Joseph’s life also reminds us to trust God even when things don’t make sense.  

Joseph not only listened carefully but acted on God’s instructions. Joseph did exactly what God asked him to do. He didn’t wait until morning. He didn’t wait for better weather. He took immediate action. “Jesus replied, “But even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice.” (Luke 11:28) In another place, He said, “Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.” (John 13:17) It was obedience motivated out of faith and love of God that moved Joseph to action.

God is still expecting our faithful response through obedient action. Joseph’s example should inspire and guide us to find hope and direction for living by taking time this Christmas to be quiet enough to listen to God’s voice and responding with faithful obedience.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. What impressed you most about Joseph’s character? 
  2. What makes it hard for you to obey God consistently? What reasons do we give for not obeying God? What does our unwillingness to obey say about our heart condition? 

The Trouble With Temptation

“Christ, because He was the only Man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only Man who knows to the full what temptation means.”C. S. Lewis.

Temptation comes in many forms. It can come as an enticement to break the law, cheating, flirting with what you know is wrong, bending the rules, listening to those invisible urges to do what you want to do rather than doing what is right, ignoring values and wondering why you should not take the easy way out to name a few.  We will face temptations every day, some ordinary some not so ordinary. James 1:12 tells us, “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” 

It would be nice if our struggle with temptation ended when we became a Christian. Unfortunately, we are not that lucky.  God never promised to remove temptation from us, for even Christ was subject to it. The Bible says that He was “has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) We will experience temptation skirmishes until the day we are home with our Savior. Yes, we may triumph over specific temptations, but that doesn’t mean they will not come back. And when we experience victory over one, there are many other things the enemy can tempt us with. 

There is light at the end of the tunnel of temptation. There is hope in the midst of each new trial. God’s word offers an unfathomable gift to the tempted. “Stand firm against him [the devil], and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are. In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation.” (1 Peter 5:9-10) Life will bring you many challenges and trials but stay strong with your trust in God and do not worry. No matter what tests, temptations, and trials are thrown at you, God is far more powerful than any evil. 

The Bible says, “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” (1 Corinthians 10:13) Leaning on God, you are fully equipped to take on anything thrown at you.  Jude 24 (ESV) adds, “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy,”

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you define “temptation” in your own words? What is the difference between temptation and sin?
  2. What are some things that you could do or strategies you could use to resist temptation?

My Peace I Give You

Like a shepherd taking care of his sheep, this ruler will lead and care for his people by the power and glorious name of the Lord his God. His people will live securely, and the whole earth will know his true greatness, because he will bring peace.” – Micah 5:4-5.

Take a look at your life. How would you describe it? Contented? Rushed? Exciting? Stressful? Moving forward? Holding back? “Peace on earth” is a phrase you see everywhere around Christmas time. But how many of us would use peace to describe their life? Finding real peace can be just as elusive at Christmas as finding a gift for Uncle Ted who has everything.   

The problem is typically we can’t find peace with ourselves. We regret past mistakes, struggle with our present weaknesses, and worry about the future. We seek and long for peace in our relationships with others. We struggle with the uncertainty of tomorrow and the turmoil going on in the world around us to the point we wonder if “peace on earth” is even a possibility.

Fortunately, it is possible. Having peace at Christmas comes down to focusing on the reason for the season.  Focusing on God rather than what’s happening around us will give us peace. Philippians 4:6-7 reminds us, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Jesus is our source of peace. So spend time on things that bring Jesus to the forefront of your celebrations and challenges. Talk to Jesus and read His Word. Keep Isaiah 26:3 in mind: “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!

The prophecy in Micah is a promise to us. Christ will be great, His kingdom shall rule over all – and His dominion will stretch to the ends of the earth. He will guard, care and direct his people like a shepherd looking after his sheep. We will live securely and in peace. God has the capacity to say this because He is in charge of all future circumstances and He is responsible for all outcomes, therefore, He can guarantee the safety of those who trust in Him. We can have peace in that sure hope now and in the future.   

We, too, can enjoy the peace Jesus offers. He offers us peace in any season of our lives. “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) 

Discussion questions:

  1. Is it difficult for you to believe that peace with God is possible? Why or why not? 
  2. What is something that stands in the way of your peace with God? What is one thing you can do this week to begin to surrender that area of your life? 

Joy To The World

“But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.” – Psalm 13:5-6.

Joy is a central theme woven throughout the Christmas story. John the Baptist jumped for joy even in his mother’s womb: “When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy.”(Luke 1:44) The angel announced joy to the shepherds. “…I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.”( Luke 2:10) The wise men were filled with joy: ”When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!” ( Matthew 2:10)

But there is often little joy in a season where there should be joy. The Christmas season arrives right after Thanksgiving when everyone pulls out their iPhones and electronic calendars to schedule family Christmas activities and festivities. Misgivings are starting early this year. When will I get all my Christmas shopping done? How many school programs do I need to attend this year? I have to get a Christmas tree and string the lights outside. Where is the joy in that? Every year, we place a losing bet on the world to supply a truly joyful holiday season.

The famous Christmas song “Joy to the World,” praises the coming of Jesus into the world: “Joy to the world, the Lord is come…Joy to the world, the Savior reigns.” This song not only celebrates the birth of Jesus but is a reminder when joy was brought into the world. The song continues, “Let earth receive her King.” This is a reminder that we have the responsibility for receiving this gift of Jesus and to pursue and experience joy in our lives. By letting “every heart prepare Him room,” we are able to embrace joy every day.  

When faced with day-to-day distractions, it can be easy to forget to seek out peace and find joy in the circumstances we are in. Creating joy in our lives can be difficult to do, but when we remember that joy was something that came—that entered into our world and promises to never leave us, we can take comfort in this fact.

This holiday season, I encourage you to embrace the spirit of joy. Remember that by keeping Christ at the center of all of your celebrations, you can experience true joy and understand the reason for the season. So will you join me in praying that God would help us experience the joy of the season when Jesus came into the world as a baby that very first Christmas?

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you think is the basis for Christian joy?
  2. How does the message of Christmas contribute to your sense of joy? 

Mary’s Song

“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me. He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him. His mighty arm has done tremendous things…” – Luke 1:46-51. 

There were many things that Mary could not plan for or even imagined. The first was the visit from Gabriel announcing that she would give birth to the Son of God. She could not have imagined the journey to Bethlehem and the birth in a manger. She probably never envisioned shepherds and wise men coming to see the newborn king. She probably didn’t expect to have to flee to Egypt. And she probably did not imagine the cross either. Yet, Mary trusted God’s plan.

As a result of this news from the meeting with Gabriel and Elizabeth, Mary writes a song, which Luke records. It’s commonly called the “Magnificat.” I wonder if we would sing the same tune given those circumstances. Or would we have questioned why things had to happen this way? After all, why should Joseph and I have to make that arduous journey to Bethlehem? And deliver my child, the Son of God – in a manger? Really. Instead of those questions, Mary sings, “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” Mary’s entire attitude was one of praise and trust, in effect she was saying, “I do not understand all the whys, and it is not exactly enjoyable, and certainly if I had my druthers, I would have done it differently: But I will trust that God knows what He’s doing and I will glorify Him.” 

There’s a huge difference between resigned acceptance and doing it joyfully. Mary was willing to take God at His word and believe in His promises. She was willing to acknowledge that God has a purpose and that purpose is much bigger than we can usually imagine. Mary goes on to sing, “For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me.” We get so busy at Christmas and in just about everything else in our lives. We make things a whole lot more hectic and complicated than they need to be; we’re all caught up in our planning, working and worrying. There’s a simplicity about Mary’s song, about her attitude of total trust and reliance on the Lord that jumps out at you.  

We too can look beyond the packaging, the wrapping, and the parties and focus on the Holy, Almighty and Loving God who cares incredibly, deeply about each of us. Remember Mary and put first things first and say, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” (Luke 1:38)

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are your thoughts on Mary’s song?  
  2. Did you have any takeaways from Mary’s song that you apply in your life?