Category Archives: Christmas

Meeting Jesus at Christmas

They brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord…and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”

And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with a husband seven years after her marriage, and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. And she never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. And at that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:22-25, 36-38

I feel so privileged to be a pastor. I have seen the hand of God in such powerful ways through the years. Like the small infant so weak from a heart defect that doctors could do nothing. A prayer for healing and anointing with oil unleashed the unlimited power of God in this baby’s life. She’s now a teenager living for Jesus. Or the carousing, womanizing drinker who prayed to accept Jesus as his savior and Lord…and is experiencing a radical transformation in his life to this day. Or the demonized woman whose satanic power was frightening…who experienced the greater freeing power of Jesus Christ. I could go on and on.It has been such an honor to serve the Lord and His people. I have been in the privileged place to see these things happen.

Anna, the prophetess, was in the place to see God too. She was 84 years old, which was ancient in those days when the average life-span is estimated to have been 52. She lived her life in the temple serving God and serving people. She was a godly woman, living out her faith in the way she could—through prayers and fastings. The nature of what she did with her life indicates a tremendous passion. You do not fast with a casual orientation. You do not serve “night and day” with a mediocre commitment. For close to sixty years she consistently served in the temple. With out a doubt, she saw many God-things in that period of time. But the greatest of all was what happened when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple.

Can you imagine the overwhelming sense of gratitude this woman experienced in that moment? Verse 38 states that “at that very moment she began giving thanks.” Just think about it—this woman served God faithfully for all these years…the God she could not see, touch, hear, or smell. She walked by faith and not by sight. But now, held in arms before her, was God as an infant! The creator of the universe lay helpless and vulnerable in her presence. The same God who met Moses on the mountain, who made the walls of Jericho fall, who demanded holiness of the priest to enter the holy of holies where He resided is now cooing and drooling before her. Talk about surreal! This godly woman did not reason it away, however. She knew God good enough to understand that He can do what He wants…and often does His thing in ways we least expect. Here, in rare form, is the visitation of God. Anna met Jesus.

I love what verse 38 states: “and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” This old godly woman was re-energized! She had seen God! After looking into the face of the God-child, she could not keep silent. As godly and passionate as she was before this, it was even more so now! She talked about the visitation of God to everyone who would listen…especially to those who were looking for the Redeemer.

When we meet Jesus, we are re-energized. Our passion gets ratcheted up, our purpose is clear, our mission consuming.

Would you like to meet Jesus this Christmas? I mean really meet Him? Beyond all the familiar stories, traditions, church services, Christmas chatter, and personal routines, Jesus longs to meet you in a new, powerful, and personal way. Anna reminds us that it pays to be passionate and attentive to God’s work and presence. She didn’t miss Jesus…and neither will you if you really long to find Him.

Missing Jesus at Christmas?

Joseph could have very easily missed Jesus at Christmas…the Holy One’s birth did not depend upon him at all. Scripture (Matthew 1:18-25) reveals certain things about Joseph, however, that make it clear why he ends up coming to the manger on that very first Christmas.

  • He was man of great character (verse 19). Neither anger nor selfish revenge moved Joseph at all. Though his shock concerning Mary’s condition must have been great, his disappointment acute, and his disillusionment significant, he treats Mary with dignity.
  • He was ready to receive a word from the Lord (verse 20). We may think now that God speaking through dreams was common, but not really. Here are the facts: Joseph was ready to hear a radical word from God…and then take action to embrace it.
  • He practiced complete obedience (verse24). Joseph didn’t hesitate one moment. The morning after his divine dream, Joseph took Mary to be his wife. Yes…this crazy message that could so easily be dismissed was embraced by a true faith-follower.
  • He was a man of integrity (verse 25). He kept her a virgin until she gave birth to Jesus in order that the scriptures would be fulfilled, “A virgin will give birth…” In the most private arena of life, Joseph honored God.

As I consider Joseph, I am gripped by His character. This, of course, is not something that is developed in a day, month, or year. It is a life-time quest of seeking God in all things at all times. Joseph was ready to listen, learn, adapt, obey, and sacrifice in order to come to the manger that first Christmas.

What a great reminder–meeting Jesus even today is not a casual encounter, but an all-encompassing God-ward orientation of mind and heart.

Don’t miss Him now…

Child, Lamb, Ruler!

Revelation 12 oozes with mystery and packs a punch of truth. These verses proclaim Jesus as “the child” (v.5), the Lamb whose blood is the key to Satan’s defeat (v.11), and the One who would “rule with an iron fist,” (v.5). These intriguing verses give us a glimpse of the battle in the unseen, but very real dimensions of our world. It provides another peek at the significance of Christmas.

The Jesus born in Bethlehem on Christmas is not only a sweet little beautiful boy. Though incomprehensible by the world, this Child would become the sacrifice for the sin of ALL the world and the greatest ruler earth would ever see! He is Child, Lamb, and Ruler.

I find it fascinating that Jesus is described in Isaiah 53 as a “tender shoot”. In other words, the prophets were declaring that He would be easily overlooked by everyone. After all, a simple unplanned sprout of a maple tree, for instance, is easily missed and usually trampled upon. It seems fairly irrelevant. Isaiah also speaks of the coming messiah as a “root in parched ground.” As one who grew up on a farm, I can see clearly what God was saying…He would appear totally insignificant and unimportant. A root in dusty soil would never get a second glance.

This is the way Jesus came. In a manger in Bethlehem, He appeared totally irrelevant. He was so easily overlooked back then. Even though the village of Bethlehem teemed with people during this season of the census, we have no record of visitors at his birth besides the heralded and excited shepherds from outside the village proper. Unfortunately, it has largely remained this way. Our neighborhoods and workplaces are teeming with people who have overlooked Jesus.

He seems irrelevant, insignificant, unimportant….

But He’s NOT! He was Child, to be our Lamb, and is now Ruler! So much of this stuff in Revelation 12 is happening all around us while we overwhelmingly live in oblivion.

I think that’s why verse 11 in Revelation 12 captured my attention this morning. It’s a statement about how the Devil and his hosts are defeated. There are three pieces to winning this epic contest:

  • The blood of the Lamb
  • The testimony of Christ-followers
  • Our willingness to die.

Jesus has done His part. Are we doing ours? Are you?

“It has come at last—
salvation and power
and the Kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Christ.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters
has been thrown down to earth—
the one who accuses them
before our God day and night.
And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb
and by their testimony.
And they did not love their lives so much
that they were afraid to die. (Revelation 12:10-11)

God is with Us

Christmas is upon us.  All the signs are here… trees laden with snow, smoke billowing out of neighborhood chimneys, laughing children frolic in the white powder, colored lights everywhere, happy faces, desperate shoppers.  Christmas is upon us.

Christmas brings back many memories for me.  Back on the farm, my brothers and I would roll out of bed on Christmas morning with a once-a-year enthusiasm, knowing we would see the stockings stuffed with precious treasures.  But first, three hours of chores would need to be completed.  Every Christmas morning, the milk production was down… the cows all went to their stalls with a little extra left in their udders.  We always set new time records for our morning routines.  And I think Dad did the same.  Christmas was waiting.

There is something about Christmas that changes us.  Beyond all the glitter, tinsel, packages and trinkets, there is a facet of Christmas that touches our soul.  There is a whole different feeling to this time of year…especially to that very special day.  Could it truly be that God’s love becomes more real to us at this time of year?  Are we living in the wonder of a God who loved us enough to become man? 

“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”

Amid the hurry and bustle of this Christmas season, may you know the wonder again of God made man.  May you truly adore the Christ-child come for you and experience the breathless wonder of the Babe in Bethlehem.  A new birth is what all of us need this Christmas… a new birth of wonder that God loves us so.  Worship the King in the manger.  Adore the Child.  Silence your heart to hear the angels sing.  Experience the joy of the season for what it really is.  God is with us.

God With Us

He was reduced to a helpless child.  God that is.  It’s amazing, isn’t it?   Think of it — God the creator, Caregiver of the universe, the all-powerful and all sufficient One became a holy embryo.  Insignificant.  Unnoticed.  Helpless.  Human.  God in the womb of a simple Hebrew girl.

As the hymn so clearly proclaims it:

“Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown

When Thou camest to earth for me;

But in Bethlehem’s home there was found no room

For Thy holy nativity.”

Were we worth it? From the entrance of sin into the world, the heart of the Father was smitten.  He was stricken with sorrow at the degraded condition of mankind in the days of Noah.  He was tested severely by His own “Chosen People” as succeeding generations turned from God’s promise of peace and providence.   Yet, God decided we were worth it as He sent Immanuel, not only to save us, but to live among us.  His infinite and undeserving love bridged the chasm between our sin and His holiness so “that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” Romans 5:8.

Before God ever became flesh, He shaped Golgotha, where He knew He would someday die an agonizing death for the sin of helpless people.  He planted the sapling that would one day become the beams for His cross.  He witnessed the birth of the centurion who would eventually drive the nails into His hands and feet.  God knew the members of the Sanhedrin that would some day sentence Him to death by mock trial.  The Coming Messiah gazed upon Gethsemane when the olive trees still bore no fruit, knowing one day it would be a place of agonizing turmoil, a brief stop on His way to the cross.  Before they were, the Son heard the hideous mockings of a crowd shaming His walk of death.

And still, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

It’s Christmas!!

Merry Christmas to all my wonderful bloggers!

One of my favorite memories of Christmas happened when I was about eight years old. My two older brothers and I had dreamed for a long time of having some real cowboy boots to wear. And sure enough–on Christmas day, we each ripped open a package of the brand new fresh smelling western treasures! Not only that, but Dad and Mom had a bottle of pop in the refrigerator for each one of us (and we NEVER had pop!). There is the now famous picture of the three of us standing proudly with with one boot on a chair, a bottle of Orange Crush in our hands, and smiles a mile wide on our faces.

Here’s the deal–we had very little when I was growing up on our southwestern Minnesota dairy farm. I always wore third generation hand-me-downs. Often times, my clothes were more patches than original. We lived a pretty simple life with our two-hole outhouse and corn-cob kitchen cook stove in the earliest years of my existence. So when we were presented with brand new boots, this was truly stunning!

There’s something terribly beautiful about simplicity, isn’t there.

So on this Christmas day, our family is going simple. No gifts, just a few stocking stuffers, lots of food, games, and hopefully, family memories. Even last night, after our Christmas Eve services, Susan pulled out some Dutch Blitz cards and we played the frantic game until the turn of midnight! We brought in Christmas this year with lots of laughter, taunting, and food over the kitchen table.

It’s morning now and the whole family is still snuggled warm in their beds, but I’m loving Christmas already. Jesus is with us! Immanuel has arrived. He came in poverty and simplicity to make us rich and whole. The stuff around us, or even what isn’t available to us, doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that we already have God with us and family around us.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Re-Energized!

They brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord…and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”

And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with a husband seven years after her marriage, and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. And she never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. And at that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:22-25, 36-38

I feel so privileged to be a pastor. I have seen the hand of God in such powerful ways through the years. Like the small infant so weak from a heart defect that doctors could do nothing. A prayer for healing and anointing with oil unleashed the unlimited power of God in this baby’s life. She’s now a teenager living for Jesus. Or the carousing, womanizing drinker who prayed to accept Jesus as his savior and Lord…and is experiencing a radical transformation in his life to this day. Or the demonized woman whose satanic power was frightening…who experienced the greater freeing power of Jesus Christ. I could go on and on. It has been such an honor to serve the Lord and His people. I have been in the privileged place to see these things happen.

Anna, the prophetess, was in the place to see God too. She was 84 years old, which was ancient in those days when the average life-span was maybe half that age. She lived her life in the temple serving God and serving people. She was a godly woman, living out her faith in the way she could—through prayers and fastings. The nature of what she did with her life indicates a tremendous passion. You do not fast with a casual orientation. You do not serve “night and day” with a mediocre commitment. For close to sixty years she consistently served in the temple. With out a doubt, she saw many God-things in that period of time. But the greatest of all was what happened when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple.

Can you imagine the overwhelming sense of gratitude this woman experienced in that moment? Verse 38 states that “at that very moment she began giving thanks.” Just think about it—this woman served God faithfully for all these years…the God she could not see, touch, hear, or smell. She walked by faith and not by sight. But now, held in arms before her, was God as an infant! The creator of the universe lay helpless and vulnerable in her presence. The same God who met Moses on the mountain, who made the walls of Jericho fall, who demanded holiness of the priest to enter the holy of holies where He resided is now cooing and drooling before her. Talk about surreal! This godly woman did not reason it away, however. She knew God good enough to understand that He can do what He wants…and often does His thing in ways we least expect. Here, in rare form, is the visitation of God. Anna met Jesus.

I love what verse 38 states: “and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” This old godly woman was re-energized! She had seen God! After looking into the face of the God-child, she could not keep silent. As godly and passionate as she was before this, it was even more so now! She talked about the visitation of God to everyone who would listen…especially to those who were looking for the Redeemer.

When we meet Jesus, we are re-energized. Our passion gets ratcheted up, our purpose is clear, our mission consuming.

Would you like to meet Jesus this Christmas? I mean really meet Him? Beyond all the familiar stories, traditions, church services, Christmas chatter, and personal routines, Jesus longs to meet you in a new, powerful, and personal way. Anna reminds us that it pays to be passionate and attentive to God’s work and presence. She didn’t miss Jesus…and neither will you if you really long to find Him.

Tuned In

And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God… Luke 2:25-35

When I read this account of Simeon, I am humbled. The picture here is that of a very old man. In fact, it appears that God has extended his life longer than most of his peers since he had such a desire to see the long-awaited Messiah. This man is in tune with God!

  • He is righteous. He was in a right standing with God. There was nothing between them.
  • He is devout. The Greek word here is “eulabees” meaning intentional in keeping every sacred requirement. In other words, Simeon was religious for all the right reasons!
  • He is alert. The picture here is of someone looking intently but with patience for a person they love to arrive. Have you ever stood at the airport with excitement in your chest, adrenaline surging through your body, and eyes vigilant looking for someone you can hardly wait to see? This is the picture of Simeon waiting for the arrival of the promised Christ.
  • He is Holy Spirit controlled. He was a living representation of God in his world. When people met Simeon they knew there was something different and supernatural about Him. God was living in and through Him in extraordinary ways.

When I reflect on the nature of Simeon, I am reminded of how radical our faith should be. Here was a man whose entire life was bent on seeing Jesus! It’s what He lived for every day! As a result, God blessed Him greatly for it…and fulfilled His desire.

Are you bent on seeing Jesus? I must admit, with regret, that I am often taken up by the temporal things of our world so that I overlook the essential things of God. How easy to drift through life like a ship without a rudder not knowing where we are headed. How normal to be focused on the things we can see, hear, touch, and smell while we overlook the mystical and divine. What a tragedy to be so earth-bound that we overlook heaven’s gifts.

Simeon was in tune with God. He was careful to hear the Heavenly Father’s gentle promptings. Even though there were many in that temple the day Jesus arrived for His ceremonial circumcision (most likely), Simeon and Anna were the only ones on record who recognized Jesus as the Christ. Simeon was in tune with God.

So—Christmas is coming. We can get so caught up in the temporal things of Christmas that we actually overlook Jesus. I’m ashamed of how many Christmases I have sighed with relief when it was over. I failed to meet Jesus in those seasons because my focus was wrong, I failed to seek Jesus. I was not in tune with God at all. The stresses of the season squeezed out any interaction with the Christ-child.

Do you want to come to the manger this Christmas? Would you like to gaze into the face of the Christ-child? Do you long for that experience of wonder more than any other like Simeon? Then choose to take that journey. Whatever it takes, choose to take that journey…

A Lifetime Quest

Joseph could have very easily missed Jesus at Christmas…the Holy One’s birth did not depend upon him at all. Scripture (Matthew 1:18-25) reveals certain things about Joseph, however, that make it clear why he ends up coming to the manger on that very first Christmas.

  • He was man of great character (verse 19). Neither anger nor selfish revenge moved Joseph at all. Though his shock concerning Mary’s condition must have been great, his disappointment acute, and his disillusionment significant, he treats Mary with dignity.
  • He was ready to receive a word from the Lord (verse 20). We may think now that God speaking through dreams was common, but not really. Here are the facts: Joseph was ready to hear a radical word from God…and then take action to embrace it.
  • He practiced complete obedience (verse24). Joseph didn’t hesitate one moment. The morning after his divine dream, Joseph took Mary to be his wife. Yes…this crazy message that could so easily be dismissed was embraced by a true faith-follower.
  • He was a man of integrity (verse 25). He kept her a virgin until she gave birth to Jesus in order that the scriptures would be fulfilled, “A virgin will give birth…” In the most private arena of life, Joseph honored God.

As I consider Joseph, I am gripped by His character. This, of course, is not something that is developed in a day, month, or year. It is a life-time quest of seeking God in all things at all times. Joseph was ready to listen, learn, adapt, obey, and sacrifice in order to come to the manger that first Christmas.

What a great reminder–meeting Jesus even today is not a casual encounter, but an all-encompassing God-ward orientation of mind and heart.

Don’t miss Him now…

Favored

OK–so here’s the deal. For the next few days, I want to focus on Christmas. We’re all thinking about it anyway. So I hope to inspire you just a little to make sure you meet Jesus in this Christmas season.

Here goes!

Why did God choose Mary? The answer is found in the New Testament book of Luke, chapter 1.

First, Mary was favored. And coming in, the angel said to her, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you,” Luke 1:28.  The Greek word for “favored one” is the word charis. At its root, it means grace…the idea of an undeserved favor or kindness extended to someone without them earning it. This was happening because God chose to be good to Mary (and all of us), not because she reached some level of spirituality never attained before. God was simply showing favor to Mary.

I’m guessing it didn’t feel much like a favor at first. Imagine the quandary she was in—pregnant outside of marriage in a culture where this is punishable by stoning. Think of how perceptions of Mary changed when it was no-longer possible to hide the bulging tummy. What cruel assaults on her character were thrust unjustly at this one chosen by God? Still, the angel calls her the “favored one” because there is no greater honor than to be chosen by God to serve…no greater service than to bear the very child of God in the womb. Though life would be hard and the days ahead tentative, what incredible meaning Mary’s life would hold because God chose her for this once-ever task.

Second, Mary was a bondslave by her own confession. “And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word,” Luke 1:38). This word in the original text is the word doule meaning a female slave. The King James Version translates this word “handmaid”. Mary was ready to do whatever Almighty God asked her to do. She did not see her life as her own. Because she realized that God owned her, she lived that way every day. She was willing to do what very few women were available to do. This Mary was ready to take abuse, be misunderstood, suffer hardship, accept a completely different course in life, to bear deity in the womb, and parent Immanuel (God among us)! And this decision was made in a brief encounter with an angel sent from Heaven! How could she do this? She was able because this was her modus operandi all the time. She always lived as a slave, recognizing that her life could be lived for a higher purpose and a greater call than she could ever imagine on her own.

Please notice something else. Mary had no idea how all of this would happen or turn out. She didn’t know if Joseph would reject her, if the community would stone her, what deity in the womb would feel like, or how she would raise and provide for this child. She only knew that God wanted her to do this…and He would guide her one step at a time.

We often want to know every detail, the cost required, the changes that will follow, and the end result of following before we ever take a first step. But almost always, God invites us to a journey without showing us many of the details. He just says, “Come”. He calls us to a journey of trusting Him every step of the way. Around each corner, beyond every hill, through every valley He calls us to take the next step—to follow through on the next leg of this faith experience.

As we celebrate God becoming man, Jehovah again invites us to come. Come to the manger and see Jesus. He came all the way from glory to enter a simple unassuming place so that all can come. But don’t kid yourself…it is a journey of faith, You see, once you gaze into the manger and see the face of Jesus, you will never be the same—not if you really see Him. We don’t know how we will be changed, nor what will be required as a result of this encounter. Still, God calls us to come.