Majestic Beauty

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:31 ESV). Our reading today so simply states the obvious. When God finished creating, “he saw everything, and behold, it was very good.” In my new “study/guest room” we have hung one of our favorite watercolors by Jim Gray. It is titled “Winter Sunset.” We acquired this painting many years ago on one of our trips to the Smoky Mountains. Gray is retired now, though he still maintains a gallery in Gatlinburg, where he lives. It is a reminder for me that God’s creation is indeed a wonder to behold. As we begin to move through this week and the end of this year, I think it will be encouraging to look at some of the wonders of God. I’m always amazed when I watch the Discovery Channel or a National Geographic special on an in-depth study of a place or an animal I’ve rarely seen, gaining insight about what makes them unique and how wonderful they are. Even though God is rarely, if ever mentioned on these shows, it causes my faith to be strengthened, for I’m reminded that God thought of every little detail in creating the universe. Everywhere you turn in creation, there’s evidence of intelligent design, the work of the Master Artist. When you see a great painting, DaVinci’s Mona Lisa, a piece by Van Gogh, or a scene of American life by Norman Rockwell, do you have more awe of the piece of art than of the artist? Not likely. Yet we do this all the time with God’s creation. And we miss the real message of God. The Scripture is so clear in declaring the ultimate reason why God created. The psalmist says, “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). I’ve often been asked how I can believe that earth is the only inhabited planet and man the only rational inhabitant among all the universe.” Well, the answer is easy for me. It’s not about us. It’s about God. And that’s an understatement. God created us to know him and love him and show him. And then he gave us a hint of what he is like. He is like the universe. When God created the world he did not create out of any need or any weakness or any deficiency. He created out of fullness and strength and complete sufficiency. Jonathon Edwards said, “Tis no argument of the emptiness or deficiency of a fountain that it is inclined to overflow.” So we don’t glorify God by improving his glory, but by seeing and savoring and showing his glory, which is the same as knowing, loving, and showing. We know this from our relationship with Him. As we approach the New Year, let the majestic beauty of God’s creation draw you into His...

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Merry Christmas!

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7 ESV). Merry Christmas! Sounds easy enough doesn’t it? However, with all the various challenges of any holiday, I wonder if it really will be a merry day. Sometimes the inconveniences of the holidays really can be frustrating. As I meandered through the newest update and installation of emoticons of IOS 10.2 I saw one that was all too familiar. I sincerely hope you do not feel the need to express yourself with this one. At any rate, it got me thinking about some of the inconveniences of Christmas and especially the first Christmas. Saying that is was inconvenient for Mary and Joseph to go to Bethlehem to register and be taxed at this time in their lives is certainly an understatement.  It would have been very easy to berate the “greedy government officials” for imposing such a tax and registration. It would have been easy for them to have felt that this new decree was more than they could bear. Yet there is no indication that they complained. Others in the Christmas story had the same conveniences to deal with. The shepherds didn’t complain about their disrupted night. The wise men didn’t fuss about their long journey. ave had doubts, there were also reassurances along the way—the word of angels, the prophecies of Scripture, the star to follow. Whether they knew it or not, God was arranging all the details of this unique event. He had planned it long before Jesus’ birth and revealed pieces of the plan to many prophets throughout the years. I suspect that throughout Mary’s life she searched the Scriptures and continued to make connections between the prophecies and the life of her son. I’m sure Mary was disturbed to hear from Simeon, “a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:34 ESV). Her baby was still tiny, but already a shadow had appeared. And before too long they’d have to go to Egypt to avoid Herod’s wrath. Their celebration of a new life was probably nothing like they’d anticipated. It reminds me that no matter what challenges we face during the holidays and at year-end, and how tempting it can be to grumble, the birth of Jesus helps put things in perspective. God chose to send His Son into a dirty, sinful world, under terrible conditions, just because He loved us too much to let us go. And because He did, one day we will be freed from all the struggles, sin, sickness, and death that is part of this fallen world. That’s something worth celebrating! Merry...

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The Story of a Family

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:18-21 ESV). Christmas Eve sees many different kinds of celebrations. Let me take you back forty-seven years to a particular Christmas Eve. As you know, Mary and I were married on December 21st, forty-seven years ago. We had decided to honeymoon in South Texas seeing some of the people and places that Mary had known as a child growing up in Carrizo Springs, Texas. At the end of our trip we were scheduled to stay at one of the grandest hotels in San Antonio, the St. Anthony. It is still one of the most beloved of San Antonio luxury hotels and has been restored to the opulence that made her storied halls the haunt of politicos, princesses and a-list celebrities. Overlooking Travis Park it is three blocks from both the Alamo and the River Walk. However, in all of that grandeur, in that day, there wasn’t anything open on Christmas Eve in San Antonio! AS Mary and I walked the nearly deserted streets, we saw one building that was open. It was the St. Joseph Catholic Church. And, of course, they were celebrating Christmas Eve with a high mass. Mary had never been to a Catholic service. So, we decided to venture in. The sights and sounds were incredible; however, the scent of the strong incense was more than my bride or I wanted to endure. We left quickly and returned to the hotel. Sitting in the room, we both decided it would be a good time to call our family. That made the night pleasant indeed. Christmas is a time for family gatherings. This interaction can bring great joy or great stress. Estrangement or ill will from past conflicts can explode. Joseph and Mary had their share of family challenges. Consider their circumstances. With the strange news of her pregnancy while a virgin and the dream Joseph received from an angel, he certainly had reason to be confused, angry, and disappointed. However, he felt none of those things. Joseph followed instructions and cared for his family. His continuing commitment to Mary and Jesus played a significant part in the child’s birth and early childhood. With God’s help, the family overcame major obstacles. I know there are those circumstances where it simply isn’t safe for a family to be together with some of the other family members. However, short of that, is it time for you to restore those family ties? That may be the best gift you can give or receive this...

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Bethlehem

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. (Luke 2:1-5 ESV). If you could travel from Nazareth in a straight line to Bethlehem you would need to go about eighty miles. However, there is no “straight line” from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Joseph and Mary would have gone through the hills and mountains, through villages and around rivers. Christmas pictures always show Mary riding a donkey but we really have no idea of their mode of travel. Whether on foot or on the back of a swaying animal it couldn’t have been an easy journey, especially for a woman nearing the end of her pregnancy. I’ve often thought about the many things that could have gone wrong. Even in today’s world of modern health care, giving birth is no easy task. They both must have been anxious about the trip and what it might mean for both they and their child. We all know that the Roman government had decreed a census and that everyone had to go to their “own city,” the place their families called home, for this official registration and counting. Perhaps Mary was also quite ready to leave the village of Nazareth where tongues were wagging about her pregnancy and unmarried status. But Mary and Joseph knew they were going far from family and into a city whose streets would be clogged with traveling strangers. They were assured of no warm welcome, no cozy place to birth the expected child. Perhaps they hoped for a small house or a distant relative or a way for Joseph to earn money for their keep, but in almost every way, they were traveling into the unknown. The journey was long and hard, the destination uncertain. Nearly nine months before their arrival in Bethlehem, Mary spoke life-changing words to God; they were words that were to comfort her in the many uncertain years ahead. She confessed, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” With those simple words of faith, she could endure the long journey on the back of a donkey, the cold streets of Bethlehem, the staring faces of strangers, and even the crude stable with its straw-lined manger. I wonder if you have been forced to travel to your Bethlehem? Has the path been long, the people uncaring, or the circumstances burdensome? When we submit ourselves to a loving God, we can in quietness and confidence add “May it be to me as you have said” no matter the place or position in which we find ourselves. Trust Him to see you through it all and work it together for your...

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Prove It!

Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” (John 11:17-27 ESV). Most of us are of the ilk that we find great reason to be skeptical of spiritual things unless we have seen the proof. Further, we pride ourselves in being logical creatures who demand proof before believing. Yet, a professor can tell us that there 100 trillion stars in the sky, and we accept it without question. We accept as absolute fact that an atom has neutrons and electrons spinning around a nucleus, even though we have never seen any of them. We know that light travels 186,000 miles a second even though we’ve personally never measured it. And we agree that Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address, and that E does, in fact, equal mc2. We accept all these things as facts without ever demanding the proof of their authenticity. So many people will reject Jesus for the same reason. They would rather risk their eternal souls than believe, even when presented with solid proof. You may be tempted to ask what proof is there. There is the witness of thousands of people who saw the miracles of Jesus. There are testimonies from dozens who witnessed His death, then saw Him alive after His resurrection. There are scores of prophecies that have been fulfilled concerning Jesus. However, even after being shown so much solid evidence, many enlightened, logical people reject Jesus as “just some myth for the gullible.” In fact, the divinity of Jesus is just about the only thing people refuse to accept, even when evidence is overwhelming. With the same evidence we accept the Christmas narrative with little or no effort. And, the resurrection remains elusive to modern man. That is the dilemma Mary and Martha faced in the grief of their dearly loved brother, Lazarus. So, Jesus makes it easy for them. He raises Lazarus from the dead. Then there could be no denial as to his power and authority. Faith became easy for them. This Christmas season take that leap of faith. Once you do, your life will be changed forever. You will never again need to wonder about eternity. You will forever be destined for...

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Happy Anniversary!

An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. (Proverbs 31:10-12 ESV). Hard to imagine that Mary and I are celebrating our 47th Wedding Anniversary today. I know that seems even more incredible given the fact that Mary doesn’t look old enough to have been married for that length of time. I remind people that she was just three when we married (she will never get over fifty in public speech from me – and don’t ask me what I’m going to do when we celebrate our Fiftieth Anniversary). You can tell from the picture I decided to post with this devotional that Mary has changed very little through the years. By the way, the backdrop for this picture is the Little Pigeon River in the Smoky Mountains. They haven’t changed over the years either. I am often asked what the secret is to our lengthy years together. Normally I answer only half jesting that our longevity is completely based in Mary, not me. So, it seems appropriate as I think about the Smokies and our years together to meld the verse today together for some brief words of encouragement and inspiration. Solomon lists two things in this reading that have been important to us over the years. Perhaps they will help you as they have us. First, he says the excellent wife is “precious.” That word really means “treasured.” Like our beloved mountains, she is a treasure. Being “retired” now has given us a new perspective on that truth. While we now can spend much more time together, the time together has not lessened the value or enjoyment of that time together. I can’t remember going to the mountains and not spending some time cruising slowly through Cade’s Cove. Nothing has really changed over the four decades we have done that; however, each time is just as wonderful as I remember the last. For a marriage to last, really last, it’s not about something “new.” It’s about recognizing and treasuring the value of one another. Second, he says the excellent wife possesses an attitude to “do good” to her husband. I know I used an action verb in the word “do”; but, it more of an attitude than a behavior. While we have not always agreed in all things, we have more often than not sought each other’s good. The mountains are like that for me. I never go that I don’t lower the windows, turn off the radio, and listen to magical sounds of the silence of the mountains. We haven’t been able to do a “quiet walkway” through the paths of the woods there in a while, but when we did, I was always amazed at the wonder of those sounds. It did me good. They refreshed my heart and restored my hope. Our conversation with one another ought to always seek the end of restoring one another’s joy and hope. I’m out of space again; and, not nearly having exhausted the topic I must conclude. Happy Anniversary,...

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