Posted in Advent/Christmas, Faith

Love Revealed at Christmas

Love

John 3:16 is one of the most well-known verses in the New Testament and reveals the Gospel~the Good News~in a simple yet profound statement. The foundation of God’s character and all He does is love. God is Love. It was Love that drew me to follow Him over thirty-seven years ago. It is Love that continues to fill and sustain me. During this Christmas season, humanity is reminded that God loved people so much that He sent His Son in the form of a Baby to make a way to be with Him forever. We celebrate the gift of His love.

Two thousand plus years ago God came to us in simplicity. Born to a poor couple, the God-Babe arrived in a stable. He was placed in a feeding trough. The Most High Lord came in vulnerability. In those days, the mortality rate for newborns was much higher than today. Love came to the world as an innocent, helpless Baby who relied on his parents to care for all His needs.

The Creator of the Universe planned for humanity’s redemption millennia in advance. Nevertheless, He took a huge risk to include people in His plan. Love always involves risk.  The actors in the Christmas story were real-life flesh and blood. They had the ability to choose for themselves. Mary could have passed up the opportunity to be the Mother of God. She could have rejected the invitation to give birth and raise the Savior of the World. Similarly, Joseph could have run from the responsibility of being the earthly father to God’s Son. He could have divorced Mary quietly and left her to bear scandal on her own. At each turn of the story, saying “no” was a possibility. Thankfully they responded to God’s invitation of love with “yes,” and the Christmas story is as we know it.

True Love comes to us in simplicity and vulnerability. It always involves risk. However, Love is anything but weak. Darkness and evil can never overcome Love. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it (John 1:5, NLT). Love is greater than all fear. Perfect love expels all fear (1 John 5:18b). Love never fails. Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13).

God revealed His love to us on the first Christmas. He reveals His love to us today. Rejoice in the wonders of His love.

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son (John 1:14).

Prayer:

Thank You, Heavenly Father, that You are the God of perfect love. You are not far removed from us, but You sent Your love to us dwell among us. Help me to receive Your love this Christmas and always. Teach me to walk in Your love every day. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Graphic designed by Jordanne Babcock

 

 

 

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Posted in Advent/Christmas, Faith

Celebrating with the God of Joy

Joy

Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Christmas time is a season of great joy. As followers of Jesus, we rejoice in the greatest gift given to humankind. We celebrate that God came to earth as the Baby who would be The Way to a relationship with Himself. We remember the glorious announcement made by angels, the excitement of the shepherds to find the Baby lying in a manger, and the determination of the wise men to follow the star and search for the Holy Child until they found Him. In the midst of all the splendor, we may lose sight that the God we serve is the God of Joy.

Yes, our Lord is all powerful and all knowing. He stands against sin and hates its consequences. He is also the God of perfect love, and the source of our joy.

Take a look at some Scriptures that illustrate God’s joy.

  • The first chapter of Genesis shows that God delighted in creation. The phrase “God saw that it was good” is repeated multiple times.
  • Nehemiah 8:10 says “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” This refers to the joy that He gives. It also refers to the joy that He experiences.
  • In John 15:11, Jesus states, “I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” (NLT, bold emphasis mine).

I love the picture in Zephaniah 3:17. The Lord delights in us with gladness. He rejoices over us with joyful songs. This is not a stern and passively involved Savior. He is actively engaged in celebrating us.

As I understand that joy is part of God’s character, it changes the way I view the presence of joy in my life. Joy is available to me in the midst of difficult circumstances with family, ministry, or place of employment. No matter what challenging situation I face, I can walk in joy. But it goes beyond this. God’s presence is with me, and His Spirit dwells in me. In His presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11 NKJV). Joy is more than something God provides; joy is who He is.

This Christmas we celebrate the miracle of God’s love. Remember, too, that we are celebrating with the God of Joy.

For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17 NLT).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for giving joy and being joy. Teach me that as I walk in Your presence, I walk in Your joy. During this Christmas season, may I rejoice with You and experience Your joy in deeper measure. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Graphic designed by Jordanne Babcock.

Posted in Advent/Christmas, Personal Development

Finding Peace Anywhere and Everywhere

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What image come to mind when you hear the word “peace”? I used to think peace was the absence of all conflict or trouble. I pictured a sailboat in the middle of a placid lake with little or no breeze. Today I visualize a completely different scene.

The biblical definition of peace has an element of the absence of trouble. However, it embraces other aspects, as well. Peace can mean “being in right relationship with another.” It also includes “completeness and safety in the midst of chaos.” It’s comforting to know that when situations and relationships are far from peaceful, I can still be at peace.

The Advent season is the perfect time to remember God’s gift of peace. The Prince of Peace arrived during a time of Roman oppression. In Bethlehem, while the little town was overcrowded by the great influx of people coming to register for the census, God visited in the form of a newborn. Born to the Virgin Mary and Joseph, His cries pierced the darkness. His divine life brought supernatural peace to human kind.

As followers of Christ, we enjoy peace on many levels.

We enjoy peace with God. The angel chorus announced it to the shepherds.

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:13-14).

We do not struggle under the load of sin. We are no longer separated from God. We are brought near to Him and are in right relationship with the Lord.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1).

We enjoy peace with ourselves. Long after I knew I had peace with God, I continued to be in conflict with myself. I had a long list of “shoulds” and could never measure up. I extended kindness and grace to others, but was a brutal task master to myself. I constantly strove to excel in every area of my life. Thankfully the Lord, in His great love and patience, established His peace in my soul. Now I have serenity with my weaknesses and deficiencies. I know I am deeply loved by the Lord regardless of my performance. Perhaps you can relate with being hostile toward yourself. Rely on the Lord to help you be in right relationship with yourself.

We enjoy peace in our circumstances. We live in a fallen world with broken people. Life can be so hard some times. We experience disappointment, heartache, setback, and trauma. We encounter illness, injustice, violence, and death. Sometimes things don’t make sense. However, no matter what we may encounter in the moment, it does not have the power to shake the well being of our souls. The wonderful message of Christmas is that we are never alone. Emmanuel—God with us—has come. We have completeness and safety in the midst of chaos.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).

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)

Today when I think of peace, it looks like the eye of a storm. The winds of destruction may rage, but there is a place of calm in the center. Christ is our Center. We can face anything and everything, because God’s peace is with us.

Jesus Christ came to this earth and provided peace. We have peace with God, peace with ourselves, and peace in the midst of our circumstances.

You will keep in perfect peace
all who trust in you,
all whose thoughts are fixed on you! (Isaiah 26:3, NLT)

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for being the Prince of Peace. Teach me to trust You and to walk in Your perfect peace. This holiday season, may I reflect on Your great gift of peace and learn to always keep You at the center of my life. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Graphic designed by Jordanne Babcock

 

Posted in Advent/Christmas

The Season of Hope

Hope

As a mom, I am often amazed at my love for my kids. They are all adults. Yet, when they struggle, a protective instinct rises up and this mama bear wants to fight any and every thing that causes them pain. Once the initial response passes, I carry concern and sorrow for them close to my heart. The weight stays with me until there is closure to the situation. I take it harder when something happens to my children or grandchildren than when it happens to myself.

I long for the days when I could hold my son or daughter, tend to an “owie,” say a prayer, and kiss it better. Their challenges are far more complex. They face the consequences of their own choices; they bear the results of other people’s actions. Sometimes they find themselves in the middle of a situation that is entirely outside of their control, simply because they are in the wrong place at the wrong moment. Discouragement, despair, rejection, injustice threaten to unravel their well-being. The darkness tries to settle in the valley of my soul.

The light of hope is my saving grace. I know how to hold onto hope for myself. Now I am learning to hold onto hope on behalf of my family.

The Advent season is a season of hope. Four hundred years before Christ made His entrance into this world, the prophet Malachi spoke to God’s people.

“Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies (Malachi 3:1, NLT).

This inspirational message was followed by 400 years of silence, a period in which there were no further prophetic words recorded. Four hundred years! I find it unbearable to go four days when it seems that the Lord is silent in my life.

That’s when I turn to God’s Word and find hope.

That’s what God’s people did during the 400 years of silence. They recited Malachi and other prophets, encouraging each other that one day a messenger and the Messiah would come. In the midst of some very dark days of governmental oppression, persecution, and poverty, they encouraged each other with God’s promises.

Then in the fullness of time, the angel Gabriel announced the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah and Elizabeth, a couple who were well past their child-bearing years. Three months later, the angel announced the birth of the Savior of the World to Mary, a devout teenager who was a virgin. The Lord overcame huge obstacles and performed miracles to bring forth His promises. He demonstrated that “no word from God will never fail” (Luke 1:37, NIV). Or, as stated in the KJV version, “with God nothing shall be impossible.”

Hope is founded on an immovable confidence in the Lord. No matter how difficult life gets for us or the people we care about, there is always hope. God is faithful. We can trust Him to direct steps and use lives for His good purposes. His hope is a firm and secure anchor for our souls (Hebrews 6:19a).

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 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 (Romans 5:3-5, NLT).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, You are the God of hope. Help me when I get overwhelmed in the moment by circumstances. During this season of Advent, help me to remember that Your Word will never fail and that nothing is impossible with You. Let me trust in You and find lasting hope in You. Lord, You are good and Your steadfast love endures forever. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

~Graphic designed by Jordanne Babcock

Posted in Advent/Christmas, Servant Leadership, Vision & Goal Setting

Telescopic Vision and the Wise Men

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When we think of the Christmas story, some important characters come to mind. First and foremost is the Christ Child with His mother Mary and Joseph. There are the angels and shepherds. Almost every nativity scene includes the magi, wise men from the East who travel to find the Holy Babe in order to worship Him. Historically the wise men arrived at His residence some time between His dedication at the temple (eight days old) and before He turned two years of age. It is entirely possible that Jesus Christ was walking and talking when the wise men presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Even though the wise men aren’t technically a part of the birth of Christ, their dedication to find and worship Him is remembered and celebrated. January 6th is designated as Epiphany—the Day of the Wise Men—and marks the end of the Christmas holiday.

The magi were men of vision. Men of great learning, by studying the stars they had discovered that the King of the Jews was born. They made it their mission to seek Him. During the same time, Israel was in upheaval because of the census. Everyone was required to go to their birthplace to register. The typical person wasn’t concerned with looking at the sky and pondering the meaning of the arrival of a new star. Their focus was to deal with the inconvenience of Caesar’s decree and to get through the day.

Rev. Ken Williamson describes the contrast in approaches as telescopic vision versus microscopic vision.

Like the wise men of old, telescopic vision looks beyond the here and now. It focuses on the possibilities and recognizes God’s presence in the future as it unfolds. It is full of faith and hope, relying on the Lord to lead the way.

Microscopic vision looks at the infinitesimal details of the current situation and gets weighed down. It is realistic and practical, but is also easily distracted by the stressors of the present.

It would be ideal to combine the best of both visions. Unfortunately, we tend to favor one approach over the other. There is definitely a time and place to tend to the affairs of today, but we must guard against operating in survival mode. However, in order to thrive as leaders, we must develop the habit of telescopic vision.

We gaze at the horizon, trusting in God’s goodness and unlimited resources. We walk forward faithfully, confident in God’s incredible plans, and invite others to join us.

Tradition says that after the wise men worshiped Jesus Christ, they returned to their homes and shared the good news of His birth. They continued to practice telescopic vision and looked forward to salvation. Eventually they were baptized by the Apostle Thomas.

Be encouraged by the wise men’s pursuit of Jesus Christ this Christmas season. With eyes of faith, pursue God’s love and will for you, your family, and other places of influence.

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 when it rose and have come to worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose 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, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route (Matthew 2:1-2, 9-12).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for the example of the wise men. Thank You for their vision to find and worship Jesus. Thank You for their obedience to not go back to Herod and return to their home by another way. Help me to follow You with telescopic vision, being full of hope and trust as You lead the way. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Advent/Christmas, Servant Leadership

The High Road of Humility

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Have you seen the commercial for the Microsoft tablet featuring one of the executive producers for Marvel films? This woman makes incredible pictures enjoyed by people all around the world, and she is passionate about it. Her secret to success? She says she works hard—14 hours a day, seven days a week, and she has kept that schedule for decades. She jokes that her only super-power is lack of sleep.

It’s funny. Every time I see the ad, it does not make me want to run out and buy a Surface. Instead, I find myself yearning for her super-power. Just think how much I could accomplish if I didn’t require much sleep. Instead of taking the time to pamper my weak composition with the rest I desperately need, I could blaze a trail of glory for the Kingdom of God. I imagine all the people who could be reached, all the lives that would be touched by the presence of Jesus and transformed by His Spirit. I want to do great things for the Lord, and if I just had more hours I could do even more.

All the dreaming about possibilities quite honestly makes me exhausted.

Didn’t Jesus say, “If you want to be great in God’s kingdom, learn to be the servant of all”? (Actually it was a song paraphrasing Matthew 20:26.)

Doesn’t Jesus care more about my heart attitude than my faulty measurement of productivity? Blazing a trail of glory as I burn the midnight oil doesn’t impress Him. He examines the motivations of my soul.

The Scriptures encourage us to follow Jesus Christ’s example and walk in humility.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

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 (Philippians 2:5-7).

In fact, that is the crux of the Christmas story. The Son of God willingly left the splendor and perfection of heaven, and humbled Himself to be clothed in human flesh. He chose the high road of humility as the way to bring the gift of salvation to the world.

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Rather than appearing as a fully developed man, he came as a tiny baby, helpless and dependent on his parents for survival. He was not born to royalty; He chose a poor family. The Savior’s arrival was heralded by angels, yet he was housed in a stable and had an animal’s feeding trough for a bed.

That, my friend, is humility. None of it accidental; all of it planned.

But Jesus went even further.

When he appeared in human form,

he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross (Philippians 2:8).

From the beginning, the Messiah’s mission was to die for us. He laid down His life in shame and agony to pave the way for us to enjoy a relationship with our Heavenly Father and to look forward to a heavenly home. All of this was accomplished because He chose the high road of humility.

More than the super-power of lack of sleep, I desperately need the super-power of humility. In order to truly touch others with God’s love, I must learn to chose over and over again the high road of humility.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I acknowledge that I want to do great things for You. Sometimes I think I need to be great in order to do great things. Teach me what it means to humble myself in obedience to You. Help me to remember that following Christ’s example of humility is the most powerful way I can make a difference in this world. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Advent/Christmas, Faith

You Have Been Chosen!

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When my daughter, Jessi, was five years old she made a deal. Actually it was a bribe from us (her parents) borne out of desperation, and she accepted. For months, Jessi had been asking for a puppy. I wanted nothing to do with one more creature to take care of. I was already on overload with four young children ages five and under. But perhaps if she could prove she was responsible enough to take care of a puppy, we would consider it. What would be the proof? Jessi would have to do her chores every day for a month without being reminded.

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The days and weeks passed. To my surprise and consternation, my little five year old faithfully did her chores without any reminders, but perhaps a few hints. As the goal line grew closer, I wondered, Why didn’t I set a longer time period…like a year? Jessi was triumphant and the pursuit to find just the right dog began.

We weren’t going to the local pound and pick out the first dog that won over Jessi’s heart (although going to the pound or Humane Society is a great way to get a pet). Our daughter’s puppy would be deliberately and specifically chosen.

Jessi eagerly learned about the different breeds of dogs. She and Dad (also a dog lover and completely in her corner) decided on a Springer Spaniel. It couldn’t be just any Springer Spaniel. Dad insisted that our dog be a papered pure bred. The two of them scoured the ads regularly and finally discovered papered pure bred Springer Spaniel puppies on Whidbey Island, a mere three hour journey from our home. We loaded the kids into the mini-van to claim the newest member of the family.

There were six adorable puppies in the litter. Fortunately Jessi already knew she wanted a girl, which narrowed it down to two. She studied and interacted with the females until she made up her mind. Finally she announced, “This is the one I want.” Jessi affectionately scooped up her prized puppy and held her close. On the late night trek home, she named her Brownie.

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Whenever I read in the Bible about being chosen, Jessi and Brownie rush to the front of my memories.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure (Ephesians 1:3-5, NLT).

You have been chosen! Just as my daughter spent great time and attention in selecting her beloved puppy, Your Heavenly Father’s choice of you was not accidental or haphazard. His intentionality goes so far beyond my endearing human illustration. He had you in mind before you were born. Even with your mistakes, purposeful poor choices, pain and brokenness, or other things you feel disqualify you, He chose you. His choice was based on love for you, and seeing who you are through Him. Adopting you into His family gave the Lord great pleasure.

As a Christ follower, you probably already know that you have been chosen in a theological sense. However, is it a truth deeply embedded in the core of your being, the steadfast anchor in the midst of the capricious waves of life?

When I know that I know that I know I have been chosen as a beloved child of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, there is no earthly circumstance that can shake me. Absolutely nothing can separate me from His unfailing love. I can thrive because I am rooted and established in Christ’s perfect love. I am chosen!

During the Christmas season, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ—God’s gift of love to the world—remember that He is also God’s gift of love to you, because you have been chosen.

They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.

But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light (2 Peter 2:8b-9).

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, thank You for loving me and choosing me. May I not forget how precious Your thoughts are toward me. You have poured out immeasurable grace on my life. As one who has been deliberately and specifically chosen, may I reach out to others with Your amazing love and serve them with compassion. May I share the Good News with others that they have been chosen by You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.