Merry Christmas

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8 NASB) I hope by the time you have read today’s Morning Devotional you have caught some of the wonder of Christmas I have presented in the previous day’s writings. As I began on the first of the month, I want to finish today. I love Christmas for many reasons and on many levels. I must admit this year’s Christmas has been significantly different than any previous year in my memory. It might be said that it hasn’t been very "merry." Recovery from my back surgery has forced a significant lifestyle change for me. What was supposed to be a relatively simple surgery with a brief time of inactivity turned into a more invasive surgery with a lengthy period of various levels of pain, discomfort, and frustration. I have never been very patient in dealing with my physical ailments. Perhaps it’s merely a reminder of my aging, which I do my best to ignore; or, perhaps it’s merely my refusal to be served instead of serving. Whatever the reason the whole experience has brought a renewed understanding of today’s reading. Jesus sat upon the throne of heaven, surrounded by the heavenly host who praised him day and night. Yet, with all of that, he came to the earth in human form, as a baby, for one purpose, to die on our behalf. Can you imagine what it must have been like? Think of the most wonderful place you have every seen or imagined. Multiply that exponentially and that’s heaven! Not because we deserved it, nor earned it, Jesus was born. And, he was born to die the most horrible death imaginable. All of that he did for us! Well, let me make two quick points. First, regardless of how many gifts we have received, none compare with THE gift Jesus has given. My family always seems to know exactly what to get me for Christmas, though I could receive nothing but their presence and be completely satisfied. Do you see the comparison? Through Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection He has given us His presence! No greater gift exists than that! Yet, there are times when we fail to recognize it. While I have been housebound these past weeks I have received a renewed sense of His presence. That alone was worth any pain or discomfort I have endured! Second, Jesus’ sacrifice is eternal.  How many of the gifts you unwrap can make that claim? Of course that answer to that question is easy…NONE! Some of them will be forgotten and stored away very quickly.  Please don’t make the mistake of doing that with Jesus’ gift. Rest in Him often; pray and praise Him continuously; and, most importantly, rely on Him always! Doing that will insure a Very Merry Christmas! God bless you with that kind of...

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Simple Math

Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him – but some of them still doubted! Jesus came and told his disciples, "I have been given complete authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:16-20 NLV) Did you hear the story about the Three Stooges? It seems that Moe, Larry and Curly had been selected as candidates for an intelligence test! A whole battery of doctors, educators, psychiatrists and psychologists examined them. It came to the math section of the test and the chief mathematician asked Curly, "What’s three times three?"  Curly did calculations on his hand and in the air. Rubbing out a portion and starting over. Finally tallying up the answer, Curly proudly announced, "274."  The doctor shot him one of those astonished looks, wrote down the answer and then turned to Larry. "OK, it’s your turn. What is three times three?" Larry had gone into one of his vacuous daydream states and didn’t really hear the question. When the doctor nudged him and said, "You can answer, today, if you’d like," Larry smiled and said, "Tuesday."  The doctor shot Larry one of those astonished what tree did you fall out of looks, wrote down the answer and then turned to Moe. Moe of course had been watching all of this and called his partners "Imbecile, numbskull" and all those other Stooge words of endearment. The doctor asked Moe, "OK, let’s get it over with, it’s your turn. What’s three times three?" Moe smiles real big and says, "Ahh, that’s easy. Nine."  "That’s great," says the doctor. "How did you get that?"  Moe says, "It was simple? I subtracted 274 from Tuesday." Now, I’m not very good at math. I have trouble doing math with a calculator. But even I know that the math in today’s Scripture doesn’t add up. We talk about God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. "God in three persons, blessed Trinity." And yet, while we talk of "God in three persons" we speak of God as one God. We use the ancient Hebrew formula of the Shema found in Deuteronomy to profess our faith in a single God. "Shema, Israel, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai Echod." Or to translate "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One." When Jesus was born, God became a man.  The fullness of the Trinity was later expressed at Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Our difficulty is in understanding the Trinity.  There are a few observations for us to note this morning. First we have to realize that the Trinity is a mystery that has to be taken on faith. We’re not called to unscrew the inscrutable. Some things can only be accepted as a mystery of the faith. Yet, while we can’t fully comprehend it, we CAN understand some of it. There are three basic assertions in each of the Persons of the Trinity.  In the next few days we’ll look at each one in more detail.  For today, meditate on these three principles of truth: First, God is Father.  He cares for us as no other has or will.  He desires to show us eternal love and acceptance. Second, God is...

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Mary Had a Little Lamb

Mary had the little Lamb, who lived before His birth; Self-existent Son of God, from Heaven He came to Earth. But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village in Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past. (Micah 5:2 NLV) Mary had the little Lamb; see Him in yonder stall— Virgin-born Son of God, to save man from the Fall. All right then, the Lord himself will choose the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel – ‘God is with us.’ (Isaiah 7:14 NLV) Mary had the little Lamb, obedient Son of God; Everywhere the Father led, His feet were sure to trod. For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do what I want. (John 6:38 NLV) Mary had the little Lamb, crucified on the tree The rejected Son of God, He died to set men free. For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. (1 Peter 1:18 NLV) Mary had the little Lamb—men placed Him in the grave, Thinking they were done with Him; to death He was no slave! He isn’t here! He has been raised from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. (Matthew 28:6 NLV) Mary had the little Lamb, ascended now is He; All work on Earth is ended, our Advocate to be. That is why we have a great High Priest who has gone to heaven, Jesus the Son of God. Let us cling to him and never stop trusting him. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it. (Hebrews 4:14-16 NLV) Mary had the little Lame—mystery to behold! From the Lamb of Calvary, a Lion will unfold. But one of the twenty-four elders said to me, "Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has conquered. He is worthy to open the scroll and break its seven seals." I looked and I saw a Lamb that had been killed but was now standing between the throne and the four living beings and among the twenty-four elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God that are sent out into every part of the earth. (Revelation 5: 5,6 NLV) When the Day Star comes again, of this be very sure: It won’t be Lamb-like silence, but with the Lion’s roar. Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. And the one sitting on the horse was named Faithful and True. For he judges fairly and then goes to war. His eyes were bright like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him, and only he knew what it meant. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword, and with it he struck down the nations. He...

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The Magnificat

When Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth (the mother of John the Baptist), she broke out in a wonderful hymn of praise.  It has been called the Magnificat.  It serves to remind us of the incredible miracle of Jesus’ birth.  Luke records it for us: "Oh, how I praise the Lord. How I rejoice in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and now generation after generation will call me blessed. For he, the Mighty One, is holy, and he has done great things for me. His mercy goes on from generation to generation, to all who fear him. His mighty arm does tremendous things! How he scatters the proud and haughty ones! He has taken princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly. He has satisfied the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands. And how he has helped his servant Israel! He has not forgotten his promise to be merciful. For he promised our ancestors – Abraham and his children – to be merciful to them forever." (Luke 2:46-55 NLV) Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone could celebrate Christmas with nothing but joy and peace? We all want that kind of Christmas. But, don’t set yourself up for disappointment when others don’t, or can’t, buy into it. You’re not going to single-handedly turn your town or family into a movie version of "It’s a Wonderful Life."  Just accept things and people as they are, understand that you aren’t going to change anyone to your way of thinking, and appreciate the fact that from the other person’s point of view that the holidays can be the "hellidays." There are some practical suggestions to keep the peace in your Christmas making them much less difficult. First, relax and stop pressuring yourself. Don’t set your expectations too high — either in giving or receiving. Roll with the punches and bite your tongue when there are times things should be left unsaid. And don’t be hard on yourself. Don’t look in the mirror and ask yourself why you aren’t having a better time. Don’t spend money you can’t afford. The best gifts are the ones that cost the least. Second, find some time to be alone. If there are times you need your own space and time, try to escape to your privacy and do something you enjoy. Retreat to a comfortable place and read a book or a favorite magazine. Write that letter to a long-ago friend you haven’t seen in a while. Take a walk. If you have to take a step back to get your bearings during this busy time, go ahead. Do what you can to be of service to others, but don’t get yourself unwittingly swept into a maelstrom or tizzy. Third, remember it was anything but hectic at the first Christmas. There were no malls, traffic jams, blinking lights, big feasts, loud music, parties, relatives at each other’s throats, football games or television. It was very peaceful. It was quiet. It was a simple giving time. Take a deep breath and have confidence that God will indeed "work all things for good" as we trust in Him. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright once told of an incident that may have seemed insignificant at the time but had a profound influence on the rest of his life. The winter he was nine he went walking across a snow-covered field with his reserved, no-nonsense uncle. As the two of them reached the far end of the field, his uncle stopped him. He pointed out his own tracks in the...

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I Do

"And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion who will help him.’ So the Lord God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep. He took one of Adam’s ribs and closed up the place from which he had taken it. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib and brought her to Adam. ‘At last!’ Adam exclaimed. ‘She is part of my own flesh and bone! She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken out of a man.’ This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. Now, although Adam and his wife were both naked, neither of them felt any shame." (Genesis 2:18, 21-25 NLV) Today, forty-one years ago, in Bryan, Texas, Mary and I said, "I do."  They have been wonderful years! I could share many experiences from those years, however, this morning I want to draw your attention to the Scripture and the promise of life.  Marriage is a definite part of God’s plan for providing us with lives full of joy.  Yet, with many people, joy is the last word they would use to describe their relationships with their spouses. Perhaps the college students in an English class were correct.  It seems the professor wrote the words "woman without her man is a savage" on the blackboard and directed his students to punctuate it correctly. The men wrote: "Woman, without her man, is a savage." The women wrote: "Woman! Without her, man is a savage." Big difference isn’t it! It serves to remind us there is a vast difference between a man and a woman and their individual views of what a marriage ought to be. Certainly you have heard of the man, who at work decided to show his wife how much he loved her, and before going home, showered, shaved, put on some choice cologne, bought her a bouquet of flowers. He went to the front door and knocked. His wife answered the door and exclaimed, "Oh no! This has been a terrible day! First I had to take Billy to the emergency room and get stitches in his leg, then your mother called and said she’s coming for two weeks, then the washing machine broke, and now this! You come home drunk!" How can we ever find the way to joy in our relationships?  What is the key?  While I do not claim to have all the answers, there are some that we may find and apply in our lives. Marriage loses its joy when one or both of the partners feel devalued or less than fully alive. They are bored. Overburdened. All of us have a child’s deep longing to be touched, caressed, held, hugged and kissed, whether we admit it or not. We all want happy surprises. That might mean a sentimental unexpected gift every once in a while. Though, more importantly, it is the dependable gift of time and caring. The present of shared ideas, experiences, stories, nonsense and games. We want the world to butt out. We want a loving friend, a pal who isn’t judgmental. We want someone to convince us we’re still loved, lovable and very special. For a little while, now and then, we want out from under the grown-up responsibilities that have become predictable, dreary and difficult. By working together to accomplish these things in our relationships, we can become the kind of "companions" God intended us to be toward one another.  This is...

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O Worship the King

Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We have seen his star as it arose, and we have come to worship him." (Matthew 2:1-2 NLV) I read about a palace in Rome, which has a huge, high dome. Inside that dome, way up high, there is a painting by Guido Reni, known as the CAWN. In order for visitors to see this masterpiece there is a table directly under the dome with a mirrored top. When someone looks into that mirror, he sees that majestic painting high up above. In many ways it is a picture of the birth of Christ. Jesus of Nazareth is the mirror image of God. Jesus is not merely a baby in a manger.  There is so much more to His life than that. He taught, preached, and healed many people. Through all of this, He showed us what God is like! Then, after His ministry and crucifixion and resurrection He returned to the throne of glory, where He waits to come back for the Second Advent to gather His church. Perhaps you have heard of the famous parable of the birds by Louis Cassels. It was Christmas Eve and a man’s wife and children were getting ready to go to church. However, he was not going.  He said to wife, "I simply can’t understand what Christmas is all about." It had been snowing all-day and becoming harder as the man’s family rode off without him to church. He pulled up a chair beginning to read the newspaper. A few minutes later there was a thudding sound at the kitchen window. When he went to see what it was, he found a flock of birds out in the back yard. They had been caught in the storm. In a desperate search for shelter, they were trying to fly through the kitchen window. He was a good and a kind man. He tried to think of something that he could do to keep the birds from freezing. He put on his overcoat, boots, and stomped out through the deep snow thinking to himself: "The barn, that will give them a nice shelter". So he opened the barn door and turned on the lights; however, the birds wouldn’t go in. Then he thought food might bring them in. So he tromped back to the house, got some crumbs and sprinkled a trail with them on into the barn. But the birds ignored the crumbs and went right on flopping around helplessly in the snow. He started walking around, waving his arms, trying to guide them into the barn, but they scattered in every direction except into the warm, lit barn. The man thought to himself, "They find me a strange and terrifying creature. I can’t seem to think of anyway to let them know that they can trust me".  So, puzzled and outdone he thought about that fact for a little while. Then he thought, "If only I could be a bird myself for a few minutes I could lead them to safety. If only I could be a bird myself." Later that night he finally realized what Christmas was all about!  We have such a marvelous opportunity to worship Him.  Through all of the activities we participate in, place Him above all else.  He truly is "the way, the truth, and the light" leading us to eternal life.  Christmas is the greatest story of God’s...

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