The Whole Story

Read This Week: Luke 2

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger because there was no guest room available for them. – Luke 2:4-7 NIV

Christmas often gets the greatest attention. It is the most palpable time of the year for the believer in Jesus and those who claim no religious affiliation. Easter is widely celebrated, to be sure, but it is not on the level of the Advent season in terms of acceptance and observance. People worldwide will sing spiritual songs, be more generous than at any other time, and even attend a church gathering where the message of salvation is shared and the Scriptures are read. One such Scripture is Luke chapter 2. This passage can be quoted by the secular and sacred alike. For some, it will be the only biblical passage they will ever hear.

This is an interesting fact about Christmas and these Bible verses because Luke writes the longest Gospel and most extended narrative in the New Testament. Yet, he describes Jesus’ birth in straightforward, short terms. In chapter 2, twenty verses cover the incarnation and its surrounding events. However, starting in chapter 22 with the betrayal by Judas, the author dedicates three chapters and one hundred seventy-nine verses to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Perhaps this tells us something about the overall narrative of God.

It could be that we are careful not to treat the birth of Christ as if it were the beginning. If we see Jesus’ birth as just the start of the Savior, then we will miss the significance of what the Lord ordained in eternity past and what He did after Bethlehem. Jesus’ birth is not merely the opening of the story. It’s a supernatural occurrence within it, a pivotal moment in the complete story of God. It was the time in the metanarrative when Immanuel was with us; therefore, the virgin birth cannot be contained to a moment in history. It is a moment for eternity.

Seeing Christmas in light of the whole story of God makes it more joyous, promising, and hopeful. It isn’t just joy for a short time; it is joy complete in Christ for all time. It isn’t just peace on earth for a sliver of a moment but eternal peace in heaven. It isn’t just a promise for one day; it is a promise for every day. It isn’t just hoping for a season; it is hope forever. So let’s give Christmas the attention it deserves as an impactful moment in the grand narrative of God’s glory and redemption.

Easy Thank You

Read This Week: Psalm 95

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. – Psalm 95:1-3 NIV

There is the adage that saying please and thank you are two of the hardest things for people to do. This struggle needs to be clarified because saying thank you seems like one of the easiest ways anyone can express gratitude. It requires minimal effort to open our mouths and use our voices to utter two words of gratefulness for the things given to us in our lives and the things that happen to us due to someone else’s effort. 

It is hard to say thank you only because we make it so. It is difficult because we can lack the humility and gratitude it takes to thank someone for something they have done for us. When it comes to our Father God, it is an easy thank you. When we consider who He is and all He has done for us, expressing gratitude and thanks takes on various forms, from talking to singing to worship with our mind, body, and spirit.

A gratitude challenge would be to take time with the list below and reflect on the Lord and His provision. This exercise is good for activating thankfulness in our hearts during this season of Thanksgiving and beyond.

God abounds in goodness.
He does not change.
He is compassionate.
He is a God of peace.
He is a righteous judge.
He is all-powerful.
He is eternal.
He is everywhere.
He is forgiving.
He is gracious.
He is impartial.
He is justice.
He is patient.
He is merciful.
He is mighty.
He is love.
He is our helper.
He is our salvation.
He is our righteousness.
He is our shepherd.
He is wise.
He gives perfect gifts.
He protects.
He is our guide.
His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.
His grace is sufficient.
His presence is imminent.
He is our sustainer.
He is our defender.
He is the truth.
He is unequaled.
He is without limits.
He is perfect.
He receives all glory.
He rewards those who seek Him.
He works in our lives.
He uses us for His purposes.
He gives us a mission.
He is coming again.

When we take a step back to think and observe all the characteristics of God and what He provides for our lives now and throughout eternity, saying thank you is the easiest thing in the world.

Not a Silent Night

Read This Week: Luke 2

And shepherds were living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 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 2:8-20 NIV

Silent Night is a beautiful and melodic Christmas song performed and sung every year in multiple iterations and settings. It was a musical collaboration of a priest and a school teacher, and the most recognizable and famous lines in the song are Silent night, holy night. All is calm; all is bright. Round yon virgin, mother and child. Holy infant, so tender and mild. Sleep in heavenly peace.

These words are so prosaic and lovely and paint a quiet, peaceful picture of the night Jesus was born. And while the theme of the song is accurate in its musings that the quietness of peace did reign that night, Luke 2 tells us that it was not a silent night after all. It had not been a quiet or silent lead-up to that night either.   

The murmurings of scandal about Mary and Joseph’s relationship and situation were not silent. The voices of doubt and skepticism were no doubt heard. The pronouncement of the coming Messiah to Mary was not quiet, and neither was the angel’s hope and assurance that followed. Joseph’s obedience was loud and clear, and Mary’s song of joy and eternal fulfillment was anything but silent as she proclaimed the Magnificat.

Ceasar’s decree was not silent in its mandate and necessity for the prophecy to be fulfilled. Herod was not quiet in his violent warnings and desire to eliminate the perceived threat to his earthly authority and rule.

Even the open countryside was abuzz with activity and noise. Verses 9 and 13-14 show us the grand appearance of the angel of the Lord to the shepherds and the worship service that took place afterward:

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified… 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.”

But there were some silent things that night. The baby Jesus’ cry in the dark rendered oppression silent. It forced hopelessness silent. It commanded evil to be silent. It spoke to lasting pain and called for it to be silent. It made spiritual lostness silent and quieted all the voices of doubt that the Messiah would never come.

See, good news makes it hard to keep quiet. The same should be true of us today. We must live out loud and proclaim the coming of Jesus Christ in a non-silent way. The message of Christmas should be on full display in our lives, even though the forces of this world seek to be a silencing mechanism to our witness. It is not a silent night when we celebrate and worship the God of the universe and the birth of the Savior all year long.

Incredible

Read This Week: Luke 2

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger because there was no guest room available for them.” – Luke 2:4-7 NIV

In-cred-i-ble (in-ˈkre-də-bəl) function: adjective 1 : too extraordinary and improbable to be believed  2 : an amazing or fantastic claim

Language is so powerful and important. It shapes the way we see the world, ourselves, and other people. What we say possesses amazing abilities. It can be humble yet boastful. It can attract or repel. It can build up and tear down. Words bring peace, preserve history, communicate truth, reunite friends, and harmonize families. They’ve even been known to sink a few ships, save a few lives, and close a few deals. It is a compelling thing about us as human beings in how we choose and use words.

Particularly fascinating is our use of the word incredible. It seems to find its way into an everyday conversation and into any speech or remark that necessitates an adjective. But it begs the question: are all of these things actually incredible? Hyperbole is one thing but are they too extraordinary to be believed? Are these things we talk about so improbable that people would not trust their legitimacy? Was lunch so exceptional that it defied description? Maybe, but let’s consider something that is all of those things and more.

A young engaged woman, who would not consummate her relationship with her husband until after her child is born, is visited by an angel and told she will be impregnated by supernatural means and conceive a son who is to be named Jesus. Jesus will not be an ordinary child. Instead, he will be the transcendent Son of God, perform many miracles, attract a myriad of followers and enemies, die a cruel death on a cross, rise from the dead after three days and reign over a kingdom that has no end.

All of this would occur just as the Scriptures foretold many years before. God had promised that the Messiah would be human, and not an angelic being (Genesis 3:15). He would be of Jewish origin (Genesis 12:1-3; Numbers 24:17). He would be from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10), and the family of David (2 Samuel 7:1-17). The Savior would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14) in Bethlehem, the city of David (Micah 5:2). He would be the Lamb of God sacrificed for the sins of the world (John 1:29). And Luke 2 shows us that it all happened.

When Mary said in Luke 1:38, “I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled,” she knew her life experience would be part of the fulfillment of divine prophecy dating thousands of years. She knew her journey would be too extraordinary to believe at times. She knew that it would be so incredible that people would not trust its legitimacy. She knew but believed.

And because of the most significant moment of all time, it is always and shall ever be an amazing and fantastic claim for us to know and love Jesus. To have a relationship with the one true God who created us and sent His Son into this world to bring Himself eternal glory and redeem mankind. Knowing all of this, incredible is the appropriate word for the real story of Christmas.

Not Here

Read This Week: Luke 24

They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright, the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! – Luke 24:2-6 NIV

One of the great thinkers and writers of the 20th Century, C.S. Lewis, once said this about the identity of Jesus, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else He would be the Devil. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.”

Lewis’ point about Jesus being the Savior of the world and not merely a good teacher is confirmed in the four words spoken by the angel to the women at the tomb: He is not here. This message was not of this world. It was transcendent, divine, and proven by the empty grave. The resurrection confirmed that Jesus had fulfilled his predictions that he would rise from the dead. It settled, once and for all, that he was indeed the Lord and God, and not just an enlightened sage. That was and is really good news.

It is good news because as Paul wrote in Romans 6, the resurrection allows us to not be here either. It empowers us to be new people in Christ. He wrote, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” When we encounter and are changed by the risen savior, the old habits, thinking, and tendencies can’t be found anymore. The old ways and people are not here. We are new people with a new life.

When others encounter us, they are surprised and impacted because they don’t see the old. That person is gone. Changed forever by the One who conquered death and made all things new. The One who was alive when people went searching for a dead man.

So the next time the Enemy tries to accuse us with our past, we can say in the name of Jesus: “Not here!” The next time someone tries to shame us with our old actions and behaviors, we can proclaim in Christ: “Not here!” Because of the resurrection, we can wake up every day with faith and a confident hope to say to our former selves: “Not here!”

Hope

Read This Week: Luke 1 and 2

May you experience the hope that is found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ this Christmas season.

Hope is the benefit and not the doubt.
It is silver in the lining.
It knows the sunshine is somewhere behind the rain.
Hope moves the arm that goes down swinging.
It propels one foot in front of the other.
It compels the fingers to cross.
It is the effort in the last-ditch.
Hope is the wing that carries the prayer.
It is the gun that shoots for the moon.
It is the radiance of the light at the end of the tunnel.
It is the exclamation point behind joy!

Hope put a melody in Mary’s heart after she received news that would’ve startled the bravest of souls. Hope was the assurance of her purity amid the stinging voices of skeptics. It was her anesthetic during labor on the dirt in her fiancée’s hometown.

Hope serenaded her while listening to the rumblings of outside activity. It soothed her as the aroma of farm animals filled her nostrils. It fueled her happiness as she welcomed strangers and shepherds.

Hope caused her to trust when her family was on the run. It comforted her in hiding. It gave her energy as she watched her firstborn grow up. Hope sprung eternal as she saw him die. It was her confirmation when she found out he was alive. It whispered in her most desperate moment that she would see him again.

George Iles once said, “Hope is faith holding its hand out in the dark.” That is good but the writer of Hebrews put it better when he said, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

Hope is not just faith holding its hand out in the dark. It is the faith that someone is going to turn the light on and something extraordinary is going to be in your hand. That is what God gave us in Jesus. Therefore, we hope. We have hope.

First Things First

Read This Week: Psalm 136

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. – Psalm 136:1

Ingratitude. There are few emotions in human beings sadder than this. An ungrateful spirit can be poisonous and toxic to relationships, environments, marriages, families, and communities. It shades and colors everything with entitlement and selfishness.

It is scary that we have this in us; that ingratitude lives in our flesh and makes us capable of hurting ourselves and others with a spirit of thanklessness and prerogative. It seems like the more that is done for an ungrateful heart, the worse it becomes. Alternate energy is gained from kindness, graciousness, and benevolence. If given more, it’s not enough. If given less, it’s unfair.

This is not a new revelation, however, after 400 plus years of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites were released from bondage by God’s hand. As they exited, they were blessed with cattle, food, gold, supplies, and riches. God then performed many miracles as they journeyed through the treacherous wilderness. He made a covenant with them, selected them as His people and said He would take them to the promised land. Pretty amazing, right? Not for the Israelites.

They were so ungrateful that, at one point, they expressed their desire to go back to Egypt. They failed to appreciate the blessings, provision and powerful miracles that God did for them and it caused them to long for a place where they had experienced hundreds of years of oppression and atrocity. Their ingratitude made them completely unreasonable and took their focus off of the beauty and kindness of the One blessing them and onto what they thought He should be giving them. They sought the blessing and not the Blesser.

King David knew about the history of his people and the ingratitude of man when he wrote this in Psalm 136:1, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” The starting point of his gratitude is not the tangible things God provides or gives but it is simply God Himself. The person and character of God is the catalyst for David’s praise and thanksgiving. It is what he recognizes first before he calls attention to the things God has done. He keeps first things first and doesn’t get distracted by the gifts because he’s too busy expressing his thankfulness for the Giver.

Perhaps this Thanksgiving and always, we will be reminded of our tendency to be like the Israelites if the Holy Spirit doesn’t guide our thoughts, control our minds and check our motives. If we keep first things first and don’t get too obsessed with what we’re getting or not getting to be thankful for what we already have in the person of Jesus!

A relationship with the God of the universe through Christ and the experience of His love is all that we need in life. It is more than enough for us to be grateful now and forever. So, let’s live with thankful hearts, act in a peaceful, rational manner and positively affect others with a spirit of gratitude.

Rolling Stones

Read This Week: Luke 24

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. – Luke 24:1-3

In Luke 24, we find Mary (the mother of James), Mary Magdalene and Salome heading to the tomb on Sunday morning after Jesus died to dress His body with spices. Mark 16 tells us that they were walking along at sunrise in grief but they were not weeping. They were not talking about what happened on Friday. They were not reminiscing about Jesus’ miracles, stories, words and power. They weren’t talking about how much they missed him. They were asking, “Who is going to move that large stone for us so we can get into the tomb?”

They were discussing the practical details of how they would get to Jesus and who would remove this big barrier that stood between them and their Savior. This is an interesting moment because we seem to ask the same question. We might not ask it in the same way or with the same words, but we desire the same thing. We just want someone or something to remove that seemingly large barrier between us and a savior. Between us and happiness, fulfillment, joy and peace.

Unfortunately, we don’t always seek the proper source to move them. We look for new avenues of salvation. We move to a new location. We look for a new relationship. We try to make new friends. We apply for a new job. We go to another church. We reinvent our image. None of these ever effectively work long-term. They all come up short.

As the women discovered later that morning, the stone was gone. The question was answered for them and for us. It had not been done by human effort. It was removed by the only One with the power, authority, and capacity to do it. God cleared the way to himself. That’s what He does. He moves large barriers between us and fulfillment, joy, peace, and life. He makes a path to salvation. He’s always rolling stones away.

As we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ this coming Sunday, trust him in your life above everything else.