An Unprecedented Gift

I neglected to post during the Thanksgiving holiday, and now we’re in the Christmas season. The two holidays, nonetheless, carry similar themes of love, sharing, fellowship, giving, and gratefulness, so we can continue these regardless of when. As I prepare gifts for those I love, this idea of gratefulness is still upon me. Christmas is the time we reflect on the gift of Jesus Christ presented to us from God the Father. My reflective readings about His birth during this season have intrigued me from another vantage point. I was in awe of how God invited people to help deliver Jesus into the world.

Long before He was to arrive on earth, Old Testament Israelite prophets foretold a Messiah’s coming. Customarily, prophets delivered important messages or instructions for remaining close to God. Foretelling involves predicting events before they occur. In both the Hebrew Bible and the Holy Bible, there are stories that tell the history of the Israelite nation and the laws and customs they were to observe to maintain their relationship with God. God had chosen them for such. For centuries, these were read in the congregation and passed down throughout generations. One significant message was their promise of a Messiah. The prophets received these messages from God himself, angels, through revelation and types of Christ, in visions with astounding imagery, or in dreams. It’s important then to attempt to understand things about Jewish culture to better understand things revealed about Jesus in scripture since He would be born a Jew. As they would soon learn and hear Jesus Christ lay claims to, He was their promised Messiah.

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Hearing a story year after year without any manifestation can become taxing and after a while appear untrue. One can lose hope or faith when a promise lingers unfulfilled. After all, this Israelite community experienced several hardships and struggles. They endured political and economic control by other empires and exile to foreign lands, where they became slaves. They faced insurmountable oppression and injustice. The promise of a redeeming King who would rule Israel, I’m sure, was something they longed for. After proclaiming this promise for centuries, many did not live to see its fulfillment. Nonetheless, the promise remained in many of their hearts and minds. (See Jeremiah 23:5–6; Psalm 2:7; Isaiah 7:14; Isa 9:6-7; Isaiah 52:13–53:12; Daniel 7:13–14)

Fast forward to around 6 and 4 BC, and God is ready to fulfill His promise to Israel. From this same nation, he needs a woman, Mary, to supernaturally conceive, carry, and birth Jesus, and a husband/father, Joseph, to help her raise Jesus according to Jewish culture and teach him life skills to sustain himself as he grew into a man. They were happily engaged and possibly planning a blissful wedding celebration with family and friends. The Lord interrupts their plans, and they both willingly agree to participate with God. In essence, they both say, “Okay, Lord, let it be so.” (See Luke 1:26-38; Matt. 1:18-25)

God also needed Mary’s relatives, Elizabeth, and Zechariah. This couple may have been depressed at this time, as they were living through the shame of barrenness. They’re also old in years, maybe haggard. God approaches and needs them to conceive a child as well, who would come naturally through their union. Elizabeth births Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, who would set the stage for Jesus’ upcoming ministry on earth. “But this is a health risk; she can die during delivery,” we would argue today. (See Luke 1:5-24; Mal. 3:1; Luke 1: 1:8-17; Luke 3:1-21; Luke 4:14-15). Chosen for God’s plan, these women believed and spoke it, as Luke 1:45 shows, “And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

In addition, God needed witnesses to Jesus’ birth. He chose two groups just for that. First, there were shepherds who lived nearby. They were in the fields watching over and caring for sheep. These may have been priestly shepherds who understood the custom of presenting an animal’s blood to atone for sin, and who knew about the coming Messiah. We can safely assume this because the angel specifies, “Your Savior is born.” At that moment, they may have had an instant recall of what they already knew about a Passover Lamb who will take away the sins of the world. They’re ecstatic! “It’s finally happened,” they may have shouted. In haste, they rush to see and recognize everything was exactly as they were told. They leave in joy, praising God for all He has done. Be sure, they’re not running to pompously brag to Roman officials about their new king or to gather a crowd to start a political or social uprising. No. It’s an OMG moment, one of astonishment and joy! (Luke 2:8-20)

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Finally, there were wise men. Nothing more, just a few guys who were wise, it reads. They were wise enough, we see, to notice an unusual star in the sky that told about a “king of the Jews.” They travel to Jerusalem to ask where this child was. King Herod also wants to know and asks the experts in the law where this king was to be born. (Was he nervous or jealous about another king exceeding him?) They tell him the location. Not so wise, ‘eh? King Herod lies and tells the wise men he too wants to worship this child. Intrigued by the child, the wise men present Jesus with gifts that are symbolic of all He was and all He would endure. They don’t fear the King’s wrath over God and have sense enough to return a different way so the evil king could not find and kill Jesus (Matt 2:1-12). How interesting that Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, himself would need protection and preservation by the wise men and by his earthly father Joseph, who was also warned to leave town so Jesus could live (Matt. 2:13-15).

This is the story of Jesus Christ—at least the part of His story that tells how He got here; there’s more. Please read it for yourself. It’s a remarkable, true story. It shows us how strategic God was in bringing into the world His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. He would proclaim the kingdom of God and fulfill God’s plan of salvation for all nations. And He was willing to relate with and include humans in the process. Were these Israelites special or extraordinary? Did they have a divine superpower within them? No. They are people who knew, maintained, and trusted God’s promise. Like us, they were going about their daily life activities or work, planning, and living their lives. They had human bodies, hearts, minds, and wills, just like us. But they humbled themselves when God appeared and interrupted their lives. From their long history with Him, these understood He has that right. Going along with God’s plan sometimes may seem to us uncanny, unconventional, strange, or appear risky. It may involve stopping what we are doing, listening intently, changing our plans, or completely abandoning them (in some instances), and accepting His will, His way. I think about how I would respond today to an angelic visit with a message from God. Would it be as these individuals demonstrated?

We should never doubt our significance or usefulness to God. He’s not so high and lofty that He doesn’t look down on or bypass the common person to use him or her for His glory. Neither our sorted personalities nor troublesome predicaments are drawbacks to His inclusion of us. We’re not so inadequate or flawed that He overlooks us for service in His kingdom. The times in history have changed, but there are more written promises the Lord has made that are yet to be fulfilled. So, He is still working by His Spirit for His kingdom purposes. I’m grateful these ordinary people said “yes” to God’s unprecedented way of delivering His Son, Jesus Christ, to us. Because they did, Jesus Christ came, lived, died, but rose again. This resulted in His rescuing us from sin’s dominion, sin’s power, sin’s penalty, and–coming very soon—from sin’s very presence. Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection fulfilled the law and all God’s righteous requirements to be in a relationship with Him. Hallelujah! You need only to believe.

Please, go ahead and open the gift that was delivered to you, and receive all Jesus Christ has done on your behalf. 😊

A blessed Merry Christmas to all of you!

Slow Down

Hello. I’m back from my summer break and must say I feel rested and refreshed. I’ve learned it’s okay to put things aside and rest for a while. This was not always typical of me. I had to always be busy or actively working on or doing something new. I was driven and consumed by success, ambition, making money, climbing the corporate ladder, and getting things right (especially this Christian life)–quick. My drive and what was compelling it, I discovered, had nothing to do with God! My drive was worldly, often fueled by insecurity and wrong motives. I’ve learned and still am learning the importance of slowing down, smelling the flowers, and gaining the right perspective. We’re all familiar with this traffic sign. It alerts drivers to exercise caution in a particular area because pedestrians are walking nearby. Drivers should slow down.

Slowing our pace, pulling away from demands, streamlining expectations, and drawing away from people sometimes must be beneficial for us. Didn’t Jesus do it? Mark 8:35 shows us He did. It says, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Even our Creator, God, after He completed His creative work, rested. Genesis 2-3 tells us, “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” Surely, if Jesus stopped healing, teaching, and preaching to regroup, and God, the Father, rested after work, shouldn’t we do the same?

For twelve years, I’ve been living with multiple sclerosis (MS). Before MS, I was naturally energetic and fast. My brain thought fast. I walked fast. I finished tests and spelled words fast. I typed, prepared documents, and proofread fast! I cleaned the house fast! And still, even now, I respond fast to a crisis. This was me. Fast could have been my nickname. It’s how people may identify me. No doubt, the MS has contributed to my slower pace now, (although my son is constantly alerting me still to, “slow down, Mom”). There was something more, however–besides MS–that triggered in me a need to slow life down. First, the more I experienced God in my life, I realized, unlike our fast-paced American culture and world, God doesn’t always immediately move when I need or want Him to. He doesn’t always quickly respond to my requests. God moves, responds, and acts in His time. This is sometimes difficult for us to grasp, especially when it involves something we believe He could or should have prevented if He would have. However, God’s kingdom is a mystery to us; it does not function or operate as earthly kingdoms. He reveals pieces about it to us little by little, because its ways are foreign to human ways. No one can say they have completely figured God out.

Second, this idea about, “setting our minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Col. 3:2) is not something we immediately comprehend. Ours is a fast-paced, fast answering, fast problem-solving world. Society tells us to “weather the storm” and “keep it moving.” Even as we watch on television the world calamities that happen, we hear news network reporters asking, “How quick was the response? How soon will repairs start? How fast did law enforcement arrive? When will the electricity be restored?” Since information now travels so fast via the internet, satellite, and cell phones, one is thinking, “Wow! Didn’t the catastrophe just happen?” But, this is our world–fast. It was my thinking too.

In my upcoming book, I talk about how as a child I visualized God as a superhero, like Superman, flying through the skies, saving the world from evil. I’ve since grown up and realized, however, God may not always act fast on my behalf. As a member of His family, there are times when daily, weekly, or year after year, my prayers to God continued–unanswered. I thought they were honorable prayers too, prayers that deserved special attention because they concerned areas of struggle and weakness I had or a sin I wanted to overcome. I mean, “God hates sin,” right? He’ll be here fast to help with this one. To my surprise, God didn’t immediately show up, let alone even address the situation I put before Him. He didn’t immediately come and show me a way out–sometimes until years later. God didn’t always immediately strengthen me, show me what to say, or heal my broken heart. I recall times crying out earnestly to Him, in anguish, seeking His help on a matter, his touch to relieve a pain that I felt warranted His immediate response. God did respond—but in His time. Contrary to how fast our society says we should move to keep up, I recall, in between my prayers to God and His response to them, I did: hurt, feel pain, cried, sweat, struggled, wondered, and thought. I did have to wait.

We don’t realize how earthly-minded we still are as Christians.  Instead of it being God’s kingdom driving us, we’re being driven and propelled forward maybe by our culture and societal norms and values, past hurts, settling a score, competing with someone, words spoken that left a scar, attempts to correct a past failure, and other things only you know. It’s wise to check in with ourselves to see what’s really driving us; it may not always be God.

When we’re so busy, moving fast, making things happen, and getting things done, at some point, we may finally look up and see, we missed the entire process and important small details. We neglected to recognize the still small voice inside us saying, “Stop, he’s hurting; she’s crying, sit a minute; look at Little Joey’s picture he drew for you; your husband had a rough day, rub his shoulders; look at that beautiful skyline; pick up that pretty Lily; go visit your sister today; tell them about Jesus, they’re ready; go, it’s parent/kids day at school; give her $20, she’s hungry; go visit your cousin in the hospital; hug him, he’s sad; sit down and listen, they’re depressed.” These seemingly insignificant whispers are wherein our blessing lies; it’s God quietly, gently speaking, and when we notice, we “do” what’s on His heart. Let’s slow down so we won’t miss these gentle nudgings anymore. For, it’s in doing these where our true success is measured—for God’s kingdom, that is.

Be blessed until next time!

A Mother’s Treasured Heart

Luke 2:19 (NIV) tells the story of how Jesus’ mother, Mary, treasured up and pondered in her heart words the Shepherds spoke about Jesus Christ. After the angel revealed to them who Christ was, they went to find this child. They found Mary and Joseph with the child and proclaimed to them and those nearby everything the angels had said about Jesus.  Verse 17 says, “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. ” The scripture goes on to say about his mother, “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Surely, Mary was just as amazed as the others by what the shepherds said. She did not fully understand what these words meant about the child she had just given birth to.

However, she “treasured” and “pondered” on them, the text says. These words reflect more than just simply thinking about something. These words are used as verbs here, which denote an action Mary took. Meriam Webster defines treasure as, “to hold or keep as precious; or “to collect and store up (something of value) for future use.” Ponder means, “to think or consider especially quietly, soberly, and deeply.” Mary heard the shepherds’ words, wondered what they meant and thought deeply about them, considered them of excellent value, and quietly stored them deep inside her heart. The scripture does not tell us another angel appeared to explain all this to her. Nor does it say how Mary discussed it with her husband, Joseph, or ran to tell her friends. She didn’t even dance around the room in glee at this announcement.

On the contrary, Mary was struck by the idea she was responsible for raising an incredibly special child. The announcement was extraordinary. In her bewilderment, she made a mature decision. Quietly and wisely, Mary stored the words from the shepherds deep within her heart. Somehow, I belive Mary understood–at that moment–those words would be the arsenal she would need to draw from as Jesus, the Christ, would grow “… in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). Now, things are becoming clearer for Mary.

May we follow Mary’s example with the children we’ve been gifted to love, care for, and guide. Surely, being a mother has its quirks and foibles. From our first look at our children, we don’t immediately know what will follow. Sometimes we want to know everything about our kids, or we try to craft them into what we want them to be. Instead, let’s do as Mary did and treasure the special moments we share with them and ponder in our hearts those special conversations when they are revealing themselves to us. As God did for Mary, in time, He will reveal to us our kids’ unique characteristics or abilities. Because, like Jesus, every child has a purpose when they are conceived.

Be blessed until next time…!

Jesus the Healer

Hello good people! It’s been a while since I’ve written. This actually is one of my resolutions for 2020–to write more! It’s interesting how in so much of life’s busyness, we are easily distracted away from what is important or what matters. Now–with this coronavirus pandemic altering all our lives–we find ourselves with a lot of available time to refocus our time, our attention, our energy to what we may have been neglecting or putting off.

I don’t have much to write in this post. I simply wanted to share a story with you from God’s Word–the Bible. Follow the link to my most recent Facebook post, where the story is located. I pray it will encourage your heart during this difficult time, and that it will give you a greater understanding of who Jesus (still) really is! 🙂

God bless you until next time…!

Jesus Heals