Without End: An Advent Devotional – Day Twenty-five

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . .

In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. . . .

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . .

Jesus came in the form of a babe, grew and lived and loved among us in the form of a man. He came declaring the grace and truth of the Father, the very Lord of all creation. And in His presence here with us, He declared: I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

Belief in that simple statement births the most miraculous of gifts — the gift of salvation into the very body of Christ. United as one with the King of kings. The incredible presence of Christ within us, come to stay. Forever.

He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God– children born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but born of God. – John 1:11-13

The presence of Immanuel — God with us — is exactly that.

With us.

If you have joined me on this journey through Advent, I thank you for doing so, and I hope you have somehow been encouraged by at least a portion of the words you’ve read throughout the past twenty-five days. When I started this journey, I was a bit extremely nervous since I generally like to plan and outline and re-plan and re-outline. . . well, you get the idea. Each day has been a step of faith for me as I came empty-handed before God and asked Him to meet me here. Perhaps that is the very reason God urged me to write these devotional thoughts in the first place, so He could remind me of His faithfulness in not only coming to earth through Jesus in human form, but so I would see Him coming to me still. Every morning, He again showed Himself as Immanuel — God with me.

Each day I found Him here reminding me of the privilege of His presence. A privilege I too often neglect, which is why celebrating Advent in this way has been so special for me. I’ve taken the time to travel the worn path to Bethlehem’s stable again and again throughout these last few weeks, and I’ve allowed myself to experience anew the wonder of the Word made flesh for me. Following the angels’ greeting from the manger to the cross, I’ve accepted the invitation to come and drink freely from the well pouring forth from Savior’s reserves. He is so very gracious and kind in sharing with the likes of me.

I hope you have found Him, too. In your day to day tasks, and in the season’s rush toward Christmas, I pray you have made your way to His manger. That you have opened your eyes and your heart to experience the amazing gift of Christ come to you. And I hope we both continue to do so. That we stay close to Savior’s side and linger long in His presence, not taking our rights to His kingdom for granted.

I hope we will look to Him each day for our “daily bread,” as we gain nourishment from the Bread of Life Himself. I pray we will remember this incredible secret of Christ in us, and truly experience the hope of the glory He brings to each moment of every day. And I hope we will always be thankful for His coming, and that we’ll continue to look for it. To look for Him.

I pray we will long for the One who was, long before all time began. The One in whom all of creation was made and holds together. The One who is with us here in the messy and the mundane of everyday life. The One who will come again to make all things new and regenerate a heaven and earth in which we will live with Him forever.

I hope we will always remember to never forget.

That we will fix our gaze solidly upon Jesus — the One who humbled Himself, taking on the form of human man and submitting to an agonizing death on the cross for you and me. This Jesus is the King of all the earth, but He emptied Himself for us. Becoming a servant to make His enemies friends with God, He gave up His divine privileges for the privilege of calling us His beloved. He who knew no sin became sin for us, so that we might be called the children of God.

And that is what we are . . .  all because of Who He is.

Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place, and gave Him the name above all names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Christmas came more than two thousand years ago, but Christmas still comes every day in our hearts. The gift of Immanuel is here to stay. The Word who became flesh and dwelt among us, still lives within us now. And one day He will again return to Jerusalem to stand upon its heights and make Himself known once more.

When that day comes, every eye will see His glory and know that He is Lord.

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. . . .

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” Let the one who hears say, “Come!” And let the one who is thirsty come, and the one who desires the water of life drink freely. . . . 

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

May the gift of Christmas come be yours today and all year through!

Meant for Better Things: An Advent Devotional – Day Twenty-four

But now Jesus, our High Priest, has been given a ministry that is far superior to the old priesthood, for He is the one who mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises. . . .

. . . But this is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day, says the Lord:
I will put My laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts.
I will be their God, and they will be My people.
— Hebrews 8:6,10

This is the main point of Christmas: Jesus come to earth to make a better way.

A High Priest, descended from heaven’s throne, to initiate and to bring to completion a perfect and eternal covenant with imperfect and mortal men.

The Messiah come to shine the very face of God upon a people bound in darkness.

Immanuel — God with us — bending low to show compassion to a people gone astray.

Love reaching beyond the grasps of death to birth life into all of creation.

Placing His holiness into the minds and hearts of all who will believe.

This is the gift of Christmas come.

I am so very grateful Jesus chose to come as He did. In simple arrival to the simplest of men. Granting access to His presence from the very beginning, conceived in humble womb and birthed in humble stable. Welcoming shepherds and kings alike. Inviting all to come and see the marvelous gift given at God’s hand. Completing a new and better covenant that is for all people — if only we will believe.

And with that belief, the miraculous gift continues:
For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. — 2 Corinthians 4:6-7

This miraculous secret unveiled is Christ living in you.

Immanuel, placing the fullness of His presence in fragile, earthen vessels. Choosing to confine His glory to flesh in order to unleash that glory within us. Shining His light in our hearts. Placing His ways upon our minds. Gifting us with power to move in His grace. Enabling us to withstand and overcome because He is alive and active in us.

This is our legacy.

This is the gift of Christmas come — the promise of better things.

Marvelous things beyond our comprehension, yet still within our reach.

All because Jesus stepped into our world to make it so.

wheat-1882977_960_7201

FOR REFLECTION
It’s easy to get caught up in the flurry of the Christmas holidays without much thought toward the very One we celebrate, but I hope this journey through Advent has been an initiative to stir you toward remembrance and praise of the Messiah come. May you rejoice today in the gift of Immanuel — God with you. A Savior come to give you hope and a future and a life of better things. Despite the challenges you may face each day, you have a High Priest committed to keeping His covenant with you. May you, in turn, commit yourself to keeping it with Him.

 

 

 

‘Nuff Said: An Advent Devotional – Day Twenty-three

Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, He has spoken to us through His Son.
— Hebrews 1:1-2a

The incarnation of Jesus is the perfect completion to God’s sentence. No further words need be spoken once the Word comes on the scene.

If you find yourself longing to “hear from God,” perhaps the best place to listen is through the gospel pages recording Jesus’ life. True to Hebrews 1:3: The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God. When we read how Jesus initiated and sustained relationship with mankind, we clearly see God’s will for us.

How Jesus lived portrays the heart of the Father and summarizes God’s desire for all of humanity, from start to finish. God put on flesh so we could be clothed with the Divine. His Word became embodied in human form to show us the way to righteousness. No longer slaves to keeping every jot and tittle of the Law in our pursuit of all things holy, now wholly released into a new and living way. One that begins and ends and continues for eternity by embracing a living, breathing Savior.

Every word written in the New Testament centers around Jesus Christ — the beginning and the end of God’s redemption for the whole of creation.

If you are looking for love, purpose, direction, encouragement . . . all of these are displayed perfectly through Immanuel. God with us to show us the way to Him. In this divine blend of power and love, we experience the unification of grace and justice as only God can offer it. Through Jesus’ outstretched hands, we are issued the invitation to live with ever-present hope. Free for the taking to all who will turn from their wayward lives to believe and receive it.

To live and to move in the power and love of Jesus Christ is no small thing, but it is something God asks of us. In Jesus’ first words recorded in Mark, He announces: The time promised by God has come at last! The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!

Jesus steps into the world and makes His mission clear. His call is one of repentance and belief. The whole of the Gospel comes together here. Maybe it’s not as difficult as we imagine it to be. Maybe there’s not a long list of requirements to step into the way of grace and fulfill your purpose in life, after all. Maybe what is really needed is to stop overthinking and to return to the simplicity of Jesus.

Maybe the time promised by God has come for you at last and your real purpose is to simply take note of His entrance.

Will you turn your heart to heaven and hear the angels announce His coming?

The Kingdom of God is near, indeed, my friend.

For you see, the kingdom of God is in your midst.

God has already spoken. He has given Jesus to a dying world so death could be overcome once and for all.

So you and I could live in the abundance of a life breathed and sustained by Him.

What else is there to say?

cross-918459_960_720

FOR REFLECTION
As Christmas dawns upon us and draws another year to a close, do you find yourself dissatisfied by the last 365 pages turned in your life? Are you tempted to overthink your purpose, longing for something grand and amazing rather than to see each moment as opportunity for the miraculous to occur? Maybe it’s time to center your thoughts once more upon Jesus, to take a deeper look at the gospels portraying His coming and His living among mankind. What is God asking you to do? Perhaps He is simply asking you to join with His first disciples and “repent and believe,” then step by step continue to follow Him. Will you accept His invitation?

 

 

Until Further Notice: Celebrate! An Advent Devotional – Day Twenty-two

My friend Gary works at a well-known missions organization in Virginia. Daily, he is bombarded with email after email from devoted workers all over Africa requesting help to bring the light of Jesus to the Dark Continent. Many of these emails are filled with heart-wrenching stories of desperation from brave men and women crying out on behalf of their people. The need for basic resources like water and food are as common as the plea for assistance with travels or monthly support for a missionary who is committed to taking the hope of salvation into bleak, and often dangerous places.

Sometimes the responsibility of making decisions concerning so many people sits heavy upon my friend’s shoulders. I see it in his countenance and hear it in his voice as he realizes he cannot possibly help every person who contacts him. There simply are not enough funds to go around, and the duty of picking and choosing how and to whom he can respond can sometimes make his tasks seem less than joyful. I daresay such is the case for most of Gary’s coworkers, too.

Noticing the atmosphere around the office had grown a bit solemn, my friend decided to bring a little joy into their midst. One particular day, he bought a cake, then called everyone to join him in a meeting. A consistent thing about missions organizations is their penchant for hosting a myriad of meetings, so it was just natural for folks to make their way to Gary’s gathering. I can only envision the puzzled looks from coworkers as my friend stood there smiling and passing out platefuls of cake. No other reason for the meeting than a call for celebration.

This simple act of joy invited others to join with it, lightening the responsibilities and reminding each person of the real reason they were there — God’s goodness and grace had invaded their lives and called them to share it with others. No matter the amount of need surrounding them on a daily basis, the One who bears them all was still very much present, and very much deserving of being celebrated.

Luke 2:25-33 tells of a man who was given a similar invitation to celebrate, but in his case, the privilege of experiencing Jesus’ presence showed up in a very special way:

Now there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Led by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. And when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for Him what was customary under the Law, Simeon took Him in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Sovereign Lord, as You have promised, You now dismiss Your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.”
The Child’s father and mother were amazed at what was spoken about Him.

Joy showed up in the middle of an ordinary day, and Simeon was ready to embrace it. Year after year had passed, one seemingly uneventful day unfolding upon another, until the Consolation of Israel appeared and was literally within his grasp. Can you imagine the joy Simeon experienced in knowing the fulfillment of God’s long-awaited promise was enfolded in his aged arms. Oh, Simeon’s strength may have waned with the passing of years, but his muscles were still firm enough to cradle their Creator. His arms still stalwart in their ability to lift in holy wonder and praise the One who was the fulfillment of all promises. The fulfillment of all joy.

Despite the passing of time, the promise of consolation remains present. We would do well to remember that a call for celebration is always in order, yet the sad reality is that we sometimes forget. If Christians who work in full-time ministry opportunities can overlook the reason they do what they do, day after day, then those of us who are working in secular jobs can, as well. It would seem a little shaking is in order to broaden our vision beyond the chaos swirling in our own lives.

Sometimes what we really need is just a piece of cake, accompanied with an invitation to come and celebrate anew the One who is the fulfillment of our joy. To look again toward Bethlehem’s glow and realize the miraculous occurring all around us still — these incredible gifts of redemption and hope and freedom flung lavishly from Divine hand. This is the reality of the world in which we live, a world drenched in God, even though it is once again a world in waiting.

We would be wise to blow off the smoke screen of lies laid down by Satan and to embrace our consolation. To remind ourselves and each other that the God of angel armies is not just behind the scenes but front and center in this battle to bring joy and peace and goodwill to all people. He will reign victorious, and all the earth will see Him and bow before Him.

But in the meantime, we need to live in full remembrance of this truth. While we wait, let’s not forget that Light has come, and life is ours — to have and to live to the uttermost.

As Tullian Tchividjian writes in his book, Surprised By Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels:
The gospel doesn’t make bad people good; it makes dead people alive. That’s the difference between the gospel of Jesus Christ and every other world religion.

If you are in Christ Jesus, then you are a dead man made alive. No longer bound to sin. No longer set to perish in the grave. You are made ALIVE in Christ Jesus, the Messiah. Talk about a reason to celebrate!

So if the place you’re working or dwelling seems a bit devoid of joy, I encourage you to buy a cake and break out the party hats. After all, the world desperately needs a few more people who celebrate, not just at Christmas, but every day of the year.

It’s time to write those party invitations and join with the shepherds who crowded around manger of old.

It’s time to worship both the newborn and the coming King as you tell everyone the good news of joy fulfilled.

In short, it’s time to celebrate!

birthday-1702831_960_720FOR REFLECTION
Are you the type of person to bring in cake for a crowd, or are you more likely to avoid the invite altogether? How often do you really celebrate the goodness of a faithful God? If you are a Christian, then every day should be a party in your heart that overflows to the world around you. May you rise up with the likes of Simeon and cradle the gift of consolation and joy that is at your fingertips. Jesus has come, my friend, and He is coming still. Are you willing to celebrate through the waiting?

The Witness of Withness: An Advent Devotional – Day Twenty-one

It’s presence that makes a relationship.

God seems to get that. In fact, it’s the very reason Jesus was sent to earth. Born of an unwed, virgin teenager, He came to the lowliest of men so that every person, from every station in life, would have opportunity to have a relationship with Him.

In Matthew 1:23, Jesus was fittingly christened Immanuel – which means, God with us. Divine nature uniting with human nature. Salvation come to earth at the mere mercy of God alone, through the precious gift of His Son. Redemption found at the foot of a bloody cross. Intimate relationship offered with the rending of temple’s veil at the fingertips of the Almighty.

Immanuel came to show us the goodness of our Father and to bring freedom to those who lived in captivity. A freedom grounded in justice, mercy, and humble adoration of the One who teaches us the meaning of them all.

Micah 6:8 states: He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?

While this thought implies a good directive, without the final three words, I can’t help but think we are missing the fullness of its true exhortation. And perhaps, along with the missing words, we are missing out on the only way to fully live the suggested actions, as well.

With your God.

It’s those final three words in Micah 6:8 that pack the punch — the gift of our presence offered back to the Giver of Life.

The action God requires of us is not paying a price for the pardon of our sin; that was already signed, sealed, and delivered by Jesus’ blood dripping down Calvary’s cross. Rather, it is the gift of love itself. A gift that cannot be conjured by mere human effort, but one that naturally emits from having a relationship with our Savior. It is a love produced as we offer our very lives into His keeping, committed to walking with God. Embracing His character and living lives exemplified by justice, mercy, and humble thanksgiving.

John 1:14 tells us the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us (emphasis mine).

Jesus the Christ.

Immanuel –- God with man. God in man — uniting us by the power of His Holy Spirit.

Through the preaching of His word. With the healing of His hands. By the promised and living Savior in our midst.

Immanuel – the most holy and intimate fellowship between God and man imaginable.

As we walk the course of our lives, let’s not forget to include those final three words of Micah 6:8. Act justly… with your God. Love mercy… with your God. And walk humbly… with your God.

This Christmas may we wrap our hearts around the presence of Immanuel, and offer the gift of our own in return. Let’s not only celebrate the wonder of God with us but invite Him to celebrate the gift of us with God.

After all, it’s presence that makes a relationship.

img_5920FOR REFLECTION
Are there areas in your life you find yourself withholding from God? Are there people to whom you are tempted to deny justice or mercy? Today would be a good day to humbly admit those struggles and to take them before the throne of grace. God is so utterly in love with you, my friend, and He wants to release you to walk in the fullness of His love — with Him and toward others. Ask Him to intervene on your behalf today. You will find He is gracious enough to do so.

This Christmas is for You: An Advent Devotional – Day Twenty

In these final days before Christmas, it’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of all the last-minute preparations. There’s baking to be finished, cleaning to be done, that one final gift to purchase, parties to attend . . . or maybe there isn’t.

Instead of rushing about to plan and celebrate, you may be experiencing the crushing loneliness of the absence of all those things. Maybe your Christmas is silent.

There’s a host of reasons why Christmas can seem anything but a joyous celebration of laughter and cheer. While goodwill toward men may still be in your heart, any number of events could have occurred which have caused it to be partnered alongside grief or anger. All one needs do is read the latest headlines to see that tragedy is still alive and well at Christmas time. There are places where peace on earth seems to have surrendered to chaos. Where joy has been crushed by sadness. Where the shadow of death hovers and the silence of a loved one’s absence weighs heavy. Maybe that place is within the four corners of your own home.

Christmas may seem a glaring reminder of the unfairness of it all. How can you celebrate togetherness when there is none? When everywhere you look seems just one more reason to shake your fist at heaven and ask the age-old question: “Why?”

I wish I had the answer for you, friend. I really do. But I can’t explain away the hurt. I can’t rationalize my way through your pain. I can only join you in your tears and pray for grace to carry you.

While celebrating Christmas may be extremely difficult for you to navigate this year, I can’t help but think that Christmas is still for you because Christmas is for those who grieve.

Christmas is for those who grieve.

Concerning the Messiah’s coming, the prophet Isaiah foretold: The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.

The darkness of grief cannot stand forever before the Light of the world shining into its midst.

Zechariah also prophesied of the Lord’s comfort concerning Christ’s birth: Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace. — Luke 1:78-79

Sometimes we neglect to remember that the Savior of the world was born into it.

The Messiah was born into an oppressive world at war, where babies are murdered and women are raped and men strike each other down in battle as power struggles carry on and on. He came to a grieving world. This was Jesus’ present-day life. This is where He purposefully stepped into humanity.

But the King of kings did not come in royal garb with a strong arm to conquer and overthrow, at least not in the ways one might expect:

There was nothing beautiful or majestic about His appearance, nothing to attract us to Him. He was despised and rejected — a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on Him and looked the other way. He was despised and we did not care.
Yet it was our weaknesses He carried; it was our sorrows that weighed Him down.
And we thought His troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for His own sins!
But He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.

All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
We have left God’s path to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on Him the sins of us all . . .

But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush Him and cause Him grief.
Yet when His life is made an offering for sin, He will have many descendants.
He will enjoy a long life,
And the Lord’s good plan will prosper in His hands.
When He sees all that is accomplished by His anguish, He will be satisfied.
And because of His experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous,
For He will bear all their sins.
(from Isaiah 53:2-6,10-11, emphasis mine)

The Divinity of heaven stepped into an unremarkable human form to be with us in the darkness, and was hated for it. He cocooned Himself in our grief and hopelessness, shrouded His holiness with our shame, and bore all the penalty for our rebellion, yet His acts of kindness were despised. He was beaten and killed for crimes He didn’t commit, all because He is deeply committed to us. Most of the world turned their backs as if His sacrifice was a small token instead of receiving it as the grand gesture of grace amazing.

If we stopped here in the story of the Messiah, hopelessness would have the upper hand. But as we read in Isaiah 53:11, that is not the end of God’s story: When He sees all that is accomplished by His anguish, He will be satisfied. And because of His experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for He will bear all their sins.

Though the amount of suffering endured by Jesus was astounding, He deemed the reward worth it. He deemed your grief worth bearing. All because he deemed you worthy of His presence.

What will you do with this gracious gift?

I pray you will invite Jesus into your Christmas. That you will make room for the Savior alongside your grief. It’s okay if it might be a bit crowded in there. He can still make Himself at home because, after all, He and grief are familiar with each other. And in the end, you may just find that grief moves over to allow space for Jesus to get more comfortable. Even if it takes a little longer than you’d like. Our Lord is patient, and He can settle down in cramped places for a season until He is able to stretch out more cozily.

I hope this Christmas you make plans for a special visitor. Even in the silence. Even with the tears. Prepare a room for the Savior to come, and invite Him to stay for an extended visit.

After all, this Christmas is for you.

perfume-1433719_960_720

FOR REFLECTION
If this Christmas season finds you in a difficult place, try something new. Instead of going with the same traditions, do a different thing. Invite someone to join you who may have experienced their own share of hardships this year, or if your community is involved in service projects for others, try getting involved in a special outreach. Most importantly, be sure to invite the presence of the Christ Child to take center stage in your heart. Even if He has to share it alongside grief.

 

 

With a Wink and a Promise: An Advent Devotional – Day Nineteen

Jesus said, “Come with Me to a desert place,” . . . not sure about liking that invitation, but I am sure about being there to discover dry and desperate places. Places He will bring fresh springs to. Maybe this invite comes with a wink and it feels more like . . . a promise. Advent.
(a Facebook memory from my friend Mark Walker)

My friend Mark is pastor of the Village Vineyard in Beaufort, SC, and is one of the most missions-minded folks I know. From someone with several friends of diverse nationalities who are missionaries the world over, that’s a pretty high compliment I’m paying him. Although I’ve never personally seen his passport, I’m certain its pages are filled with stamps from numerous countries, one of his favorites being Sudan.

If Tony Bennett can croon about leaving his heart in San Francisco, I imagine he can only be rivaled by Mark’s southern drawl humming the same tune while exchanging the favored place to South Sudan. Every time Mark recounts a story from his visits there, his eyes light up brighter than the twinkling bulbs on a Christmas tree. So when he writes about a dry and desperate place, I can’t help but wonder what particular corner of the world comes to mind for him personally. South Sudan may be filled with dry and desperate places, yet God continues to draw Mark there and to show His presence in some pretty miraculous ways.

Maybe that’s why my friend is able to notice the subtle wink of His Savior and to look with hope for springs certain to come, even in desert places. Because he knows when we accept the Lord’s invitation to “Come with Me,” some pretty incredible things are guaranteed to happen.

My friend’s gospel-writing namesake reminds us of a time Jesus invited His disciples to come away to a deserted place so they could rest awhile. In Mark 6:31, it seems Jesus and His buddies had been bombarded by so many people that they had no leisure time for even a  bite to eat. The disciples had just returned from being sent out among the people where they had experienced God’s power being unleashed through them with miraculous signs and wonders. They were most likely filled with excitement and exhaustion that accompanied preaching the gospel and pouring out their efforts in this new way. After all the hubbub, they were probably overwhelmed by the commotion of the throngs who followed Jesus wherever He traveled. Knowing they were close to burnout, Christ encourages His disciples to come away to a deserted place with Him so they could rest.

But as the disciples were soon to learn, sometimes what we really need is not so much a place to rest, but an opportunity to encounter the miraculous. One more time.

While the disciples were anticipating a quiet place to debrief with Jesus, they were instead met by yet another press of crowds who had rightly predicted where the Savior and His boatload of friends were heading. In their desire to be near Jesus, the masses ran along the shore and got there ahead of Him. When Jesus saw the huge crowd gathered to meet Him, He had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So He began teaching them many things. (Mark 6:34)

Ever-patient and always concerned with the welfare of others, Jesus pushes off His own desires while settling Himself among the people and teaching them Kingdom principles. We aren’t told how the disciples responded to meeting up with the masses yet again, but eventually they did address Jesus:

By now the hour was already late. So the disciples came to Jesus and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is already late. Dismiss the crowd so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But Jesus told them, “You give them something to eat.”  — Mark 6:35-37

While the disciples were more focused on their own exhaustion (and perhaps their rumbling stomachs, as well), Jesus remained intently focused upon others. He knew the people were hungry, both physically and spiritually. This was an opportunity to supply for both of those needs. When the disciples suggested sending the crowd away so they could obtain something to eat, Jesus had a better idea. One that would provide the chance for a miracle to reveal itself to the masses and on an individual level: You give them something to eat.

Chances are the disciples looked and saw the insurmountable goal of feeding the masses, while Jesus looked to the Father and saw the inexhaustible resources available at all times. No needs arise unforeseen. No challenges lie beyond the reach of Jesus’ power. And the invitation to be a part of the provision is extended still to those who are willing to partner with the Lord in His endeavors to care for others.

But Jesus told them, “You give them something to eat,”
“With what?” they asked. “We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!”
“How much bread do you have?” He asked. “Go and find out.”
They came back and reported, “We have five loaves of bread and two fish.”

The disciples must have thought the five loaves and two fish to be absurdly insufficient for feeding the surrounding crowd, yet they returned to Jesus with their meager supply. And once the resources were yielded into the waiting hands of the Messiah, a great increase was in the making.

To summarize the remainder of the story: Jesus received the loaves and fishes, gave thanks for them and blessed them, then broke the bread into pieces and divided the fish, giving them into the hands of His disciples to be distributed to the people who were now seated and waiting. The group of 5,000 men plus their families all ate until they were satisfied, and still there were leftovers. Twelve baskets full of bread and fish, to be precise!

Come with Me to a desert place,” . . . not sure about liking that invitation. . .

But Maybe, just maybe . . .

This invite comes with a wink and it feels more like . . . a promise.

Advent.

67176ac9-4ed5-4f23-8c17-ab316967e39aFOR REFLECTION
Sometimes the needs staring us in the face can feel as overwhelming as feeding a crowd of 5,000+ with a handful of bread and fish. Maybe you are facing such challenges today be it in relationships, providing spiritual or physical care for others, or literally attempting to place food on your own family’s table. Life can take us to some pretty desperate places, but how we respond to God while we are there is key to our life with Him and to the results we will receive. Are you willing to place your “five loaves and two fish” into His outstretched hands?
“Jesus would have us count our own resources, not that we may fling up His work in despair, but that we may realize our dependence on Him, and that the consciousness of our own insufficiency may not diminish one jot our sense of obligation to feed the multitude. It is good to learn our own weakness if it drives us to lean on His strength. ‘Five loaves and two fishes,’ plus Jesus Christ, come to a good deal more than ‘two hundred pennyworth of bread.’ (from MacLaren’s Exposition on Mark 6)


The Shunning Continues: An Advent Devotional – Day Seventeen

After last weeks’ re-post of The Shunning in where my daughter intentionally set up our nativity creche to simulate the “true heart” of how most of America would be found worshiping at the manger:IMG_2518

https://merewhispers.wordpress.com/2016/12/11/the-shunning-of-christ-a-re-post-from-christmas-past/, my sister-in-law made a comment reminding me of her adventures when responsible for setting up a live nativity during our local community’s annual Christmas parade. In response to the figurine placement of turning the backs upon the Christ Child, she joked that “You could also have everyone more interested in petting the cow.”

Such was the truth of how things turned out the first few years of the live nativity in which she managed to procure various farm animals to present alongside the Babe in the manger. Not surprisingly, the animals were what drew the crowd. More interest was found in petting the baby calf and laughing at the antics of a pygmy goat than in contemplating the incredible Gift of a Savior born to rescue the world.

While I failed to actually write a story about her experience with the live nativity turned petting zoo, I did manage to write about her final nativity participation in the same community. One which I found to be eerily reminiscent of the original version, with its own modern-day twist, of course. So in honor of my sister-in-law, and in hopes of convicting a few hearts along the way, I am posting the story again.

The shunning continues:

A few years ago, my sister-in-law was responsible for setting up a live nativity following a Christmas parade in our local community. She had been assured there would be a place for her dramatists to don their costumes, along with a spot for hot cocoa and cookies to be served. What she had not realized was that this place was merely an unlocked room located up a tall, narrow flight of stairs (not exactly conducive to the traipsing back and forth of long-robed participants or lugging heavy boxes of costumes or the wheelchair holding her then nine-year-old daughter). In desperation, she began going door to door at the local businesses, asking if there was a small spot where her participants could come in and drink a cup of hot cocoa while being sheltered from the cold.

Akin to the reality of the original Nativity, she received the same response as did Mary and Joseph. There was no room at the inn. Business after business closed their doors.

“There’s really no room for you here…”

“We can’t afford to get our carpets dirtied…”

Excuse after excuse turned the small band away.

There was simply no room for Baby Jesus and His followers.

No place to provide warmth from the cold night air.

Perhaps saddest of all was that my sister-in-law had been informed she needed to keep the “religious” theme away from the “Santa Claus” theme.

And where exactly was jolly, old Saint Nick? Front and center in the warmth and bustle of the shopping mall, a long line of families with children anxiously making their way toward his lap to share their Christmas list.

. . . While the Savior of the World was once again overlooked, placed in the margins, confined to the cold.

Frustrating for my sister-in-law, but fitting, really. A rude reminder of reality. A reality that places more emphasis on reindeer and mistletoe than on the humble Babe lying in a manger.

No room at the inn.

No room in our hearts.

And we wonder why the world seems so dark beneath the glow of tinsel and lights as we eagerly grasp for candy-cane placebos while neglecting the swaddled-wrapped gift of Salvation come in human form.

1465164_10201235634478523_2047155096_nLord, open our eyes and our hearts to see and receive You into our lives. This Christmas and always, may You find a place of warmth and love to dwell among those who call You their Savior.

FOR REFLECTION
Do you ever find yourself turning a deaf ear to the Savior’s cry for welcome? Sadly, in our rush to celebrate His birth, we can get caught up in the tinsel and lights more than in humbly receiving our King. In what ways can you show Jesus He has a place in your home this Christmas season? Take some purposeful steps toward inviting Him into your celebration as you prepare your heart to receive its King. He has come and is coming still. When He does, will He find a place to stay with you?

Come and See: An Advent Devotional – Day Sixteen

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Come, follow Me.” Philip was from Bethsaida, Andrew and Peter’s hometown.
Philip went to look for Nathanael, and told him, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”
“Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
“Come and see for yourself,” Philip replied.

As they approached, Jesus said, “Now here is a genuine son of Israel — a man of complete integrity.
“How do you know about me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus replied, “I could see you under the fig tree before Philip found you.
Then Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God — the King of Israel!”

— John 1:43-49

Notoriously known for little, Nazareth was perhaps the last place from which Nathanael would expect the Messiah to hail. This simple village was looked upon with disdain and skepticism, and conspicuously was not a place honored with a position in prophecy as was the little town of Bethlehem.

In typical 1 Corinthians: 1:27-28 fashion, God chose to work His miracles through mysterious means. Thwarting the wisdom of the world by running counter to its logic, God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly and despised things of the world, and the things that are not, to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast in His presence.

Things like choosing an unwed, teenage girl named Mary to birth the Savior of the world. Choosing to bypass kingdom hallways for an isolated manger as Messiah’s birthplace. Choosing a simple carpenter named Joseph to raise the Son of God in the nondescript village of Nazareth. What good could possibly come from such humble beginnings?

“Come and see,” God smiles.

God’s ways remain mysterious to this day. He calls us to wait upon Him as we patiently endure times of testing. He challenges us to be courageous and to place our trust in Him, no matter how hopeless things may appear to finite eyes. And sometimes He calls us to “Come and see” good in the most awful of places. Not to just sit by the wayside, but to activate our faith as we move toward it against all odds. To open our eyes and search for good coming from the least likely places. The invitation to Nathanael remains the same one extended to you and me today.

“Come and see,” God smiles. “Come and see.”

Jesus knew the secrets of Nathanael’s heart. He knows yours, too. He sees both the hope and the doubts as we struggle through our pain. “How can this be God’s will for my life? Can anything good come from it?” we find ourselves wondering in the midst of our own personal Nazareths.

“Come and see,” God smiles.

Bring your cares to Me and we will put them together with My power, here where mankind is reconciled with Divine. Come and see the very One whom the prophets foretold. Come and see the Messiah.

What good can possibly come from this (whatever your “this” may be)?

What good, indeed: It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God: our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. — 1 Corinthians.1:30

Wisdom, righteousness, holiness, and redemption —  the greatest of gifts can come from the lowliest of places.

“Come and see,” God smiles.

come-and-see-1FOR REFLECTION
Do you find yourself in an unlikely place for seeing the goodness of God? If so, you are in a perfect position to experience the miraculous presence of Messiah come. Jesus continues to show up in the most unlikely of ways in unlikely places to seemingly insignificant people. Which makes all of us prime for His presence.
What steps can you take toward seeing the good in your present situation? Are there things you can do to improve the situation? If so, then determine to do those things today. If, however, you are facing a trial that is beyond the help of any human efforts, rest assured you are are still seen by Jesus. He knows exactly what you are facing, and He also knows exactly how to intervene on your behalf. Ask Him to do so, beloved, then be willing to take a step toward the good He is extending. Ask for eyes of faith to see His kingdom advancing, even if it seems like the least likely place to find Him. Come and see, dear friend. He is near. Open your eyes to the wonder of Messiah come for you.

His Name Shall Be: An Advent Devotional – Day Fourteen

Nevertheless, this time of darkness and despair will not go on forever . . 

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light.
For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine . . .

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.
The government will rest on His shoulders.
And He will be called:
Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of His ancestor David
For all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
Will make this happen!
— Isaiah 9:1,6-7, NLT

At just the right time, God promises the hope of the Messiah to come. In a time of great darkness, God speaks and brings the provision of comfort for those who wrestle with despair.

With a grand gesture of His passionate love and enduring faithfulness, He makes the proclamation of a Savior who will come with redemption in His hand for all mankind. Upon the shoulders of this Messiah, all the kingdoms of the world will rest. Before the majesty of this mighty Prince, all kings and peoples will bow in humble worship.

This is the wonder we celebrate at Christmas. This incredible gift of Light come to extinguish deep darkness and to overthrow every trace of the shadow of death. For good.

Jesus comes with the promise and the power to be Who He is — in every life who will receive Him.

He is a Wonderful Counselor, bringing wisdom to those who live in confusion and bewilderment.

He is a Mighty God who will fight on behalf of those who feel powerless and defeated.

He is an Everlasting Father to the orphan, to the abused and abandoned.

He is a Prince of Peace bringing the comfort of His presence to those who live in turmoil and fear.

He is a Ruler who reigns with fairness and justice for all.

He is Jesus.

Immanuel.

God with us.

For all eternity.

FOR REFLECTION
Take a few moments to listen to this song His Name Shall Be by Matt Redman and thank Jesus for coming to fulfill the meanings of these titles for you. If there are specific things you want Him to change in your life, humbly ask Him to come to you in those areas and do a mighty work of power. The Lord our God is passionately committed to you. He is for you, beloved. May your heart prepare Him room today.