Acts 26-28 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: One holy night long ago He sent His presence to abide with us

Selling a home, especially in today’s market, can be tricky business.  Through the years, I’ve had several home sellers tell me that their home sold before they even had it on the market or shortly after that, and this miracle was God’s stamp of approval on their upcoming move or change.  I’m always at a momentary loss of words at this point. The two beautiful homes we owned in the past took months and months to sell even though well priced.  Does this mean we were moving outside of God’s will?

Knowing that we were in God’s will is what carried us along during those difficult months.  And this begs the question in our reading today – Was Paul out of God’s will when he insisted his case be tried in Rome?  The hardships he incurred on the way to Rome were extraordinary, but in spite of it all, he ultimately answered God’s call to preach to the Romans.  As we celebrate Christmas, another question comes to mind. Were the difficulties, then, that Mary and Joseph faced at the time of Jesus’ birth an indication that God was not with them?

@ Acts 27-28
Paul was under armed guard as they set sail for Rome, and the trip was treacherous, to say the least.  A violent tempest tossed the ship for days, and Paul’s life was threatened as the soldiers attempted to kill the prisoners rather than risk their getting free in the storm. When they finally ended up shipwrecked on the island of Malta, miraculously not one life was lost.  If this wasn’t enough peril, Paul was bitten by a deadly viper, yet not even a mark remained.

“Now when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard; but Paul was permitted to dwell by himself with the soldier who guarded him… Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.” (28:16,30-31)  The sailing was not smooth, the house did not sell, but God was with Paul on his trip to Rome, and his mission was accomplished.  Paul preached the gospel to the Romans. 

@ Luke 2
“Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into 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 wife, who was with child. So it was that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered.  And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloth, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (4-8)

Having just accepted the unbelievable truth of an Immaculate Conception, Joseph and pregnant Mary traveled the difficult road to Bethlehem to find there was no lodging available.  Then Mary went into labor and gave birth to the Messiah, the very Son of God … in a stable.  And, if that wasn’t trial enough, the king tried to kill their son.  With all these difficulties, some would say that this couple was out of the will of God and perhaps this Holy Spirit conception was a farce.  And they would, of course, be wrong.

Now, some 2,000 years later we honor this glorious birth as we sing, “Joy to the World,” “The First Noel” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.”  We join with the multitude of the heavenly host praising God and say:  “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (14)

As with Paul, Joseph and Mary and so many others who have gone before us, the path to our future may not always be smooth sailing, and we may find ourselves in difficult situations from time to time. However, there is one thing we can be certain of today in our celebration of Christ’s coming to this earth, and it is that He is with us!  As we travel His path, He is with us.  Merry Christmas, fellow travelers! 

Moving Forward:  “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.” He has come, and He is with me as I travel life’s path. 

Tomorrow @ Jude

Revelation 12-17 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He defeated the enemy through His birth, death and resurrection

Pink and soft and sweet.  There’s nothing like a newborn baby!  As we gaze at God’s workmanship, we marvel at the intricate details right down to the tiny fingers and fingernails.  No doubt Mary and Joseph we enthralled with their new little bundle of joy.

At Christmas, I enjoy setting up the many nativity sets that I’ve collected over the years.  One set is beautiful porcelain made by Goebel, another is elegantly designed by Thomas Kinkaid, but just as precious to me is a rustic wooden set carved in Paraguay.  One thing they all have in common is the peaceful, serene setting depicted on that night so long ago when the Prince of Peace came into the world.  However, not everyone was at peace that it was Israel that delivered the Savior of all mankind. 

@ Revelation 12
“Then I witnessed in heaven an event of great significance. I saw a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant, and she cried out because of her labor pains and the agony of giving birth. Then I witnessed in heaven another significant event. I saw a large red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, with seven crowns on his heads.  His tail swept away one-third of the stars in the sky, and he threw them to the earth. He stood in front of the woman as she was about to give birth, ready to devour her baby as soon as it was born. She gave birth to a son who was to rule all nations with an iron rod. And her child was snatched away from the dragon and was caught up to God and to his throne.” (1-5)

I’ve watched many Christmas pageants over the years filled with Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, angels, shepherds and the erroneous wise men at the stable, but I’ve never seen one that included a huge red dragon with seven heads.  I’m thankful for that.  Most believe the woman of Revelation 12 to be actually symbolic of Israel rather than Mary, but regardless, Israel brought forth the One who would defeat the enemy.

“Then there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels. And the dragon lost the battle, and he and his angels were forced out of heaven. This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels.” (7-9) Jesus sacrificed his life for our redemption, and it was the final nail in the coffin that secured Satan’s defeat!

“And the dragon was angry at the woman and declared war against the rest of her children—all who keep God’s commandments and maintain their testimony for Jesus.” (17) So, if we’ve wondered why the enemy throws his arrows at us and attacks us at every turn, we now understand it’s because he is angry at us for keeping God’s commandments and maintaining our testimony for Jesus. This is why Paul encourages us to put on all that armor every day found in Ephesians 6:11, “Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.”

The war will continue until Christ’s return, but we will defeat our enemy in the battles we face each day by suiting up and by using the very things that made Satan angry in the first place: “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.” (11, NKJV)

The enemy’s time is short, and he knows it, “For the devil has come down to you in great anger, knowing that he has little time.” (12)  And we know it as well, “He who is the Faithful Witness to all these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon!’ Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.” (22:20) 

Moving Forward:  As I celebrate the birth of Jesus, I am ever mindful of His ultimate mission and the victory He has brought to my life to defeat the enemy. 

Tomorrow @ Acts 26-28

Deuteronomy 26-28 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He rewards those who obey His commandments

Parents have been using the whole naughty or nice list of Santa’s for a long time to exact obedience and good behavior from their children for a few weeks leading up to Christmas.  I haven’t met anyone who was emotionally scarred for life after learning all this good behavior was for an imaginary figure that existed in the minds of conniving parents, but I guess the potential is there.

As a parent, I always believed in rewarding good behavior and punishing disobedience, but many today have a different viewpoint.  Some think that punishment is too degrading and that rewarding some children and not others may cause a lack of self-esteem in those unrewarded. The thought of raising a generation of children who do not understand that there are consequences that will follow their actions is frightening to me.  Our scripture today leaves no doubt in my mind that God is all over the idea of rewarding obedience and punishing disobedience. 

@ Deuteronomy 28
If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully keep all his commands that I am giving you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the world.” (1)  As Israel stood at the gateway of promise into the land of their dreams, God put before them a challenge.   Tucked in between many curses that would result from disobedience to God’s law are 14 incredible verses of blessing for the nation of Israel if they would keep His commandments.  Rewards and punishments.

Moses went on to declare blessings over towns, fields, children, crops, herds, and flocks.  God would conquer their enemies and fill their storehouses with prosperity.  They would be powerful and respected among the nations.  All this would be theirs if they obeyed God’s commandments.  “If you listen to these commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today, and if you carefully obey them, the Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you will always be on top and never at the bottom. You must not turn away from any of the commands I am giving you today, nor follow after other gods and worship them.” (13-14)  But isn’t that exactly what the nation of Israel did!  They threw away the promise of all these rewards for the worship of other gods.  Because of their disobedience, they eventually lost their nation and freedom to Babylon.

The rewards and curses of Deuteronomy 28 are relevant to all lives and nations.  I believe we have come dangerously close to throwing away the blessing of the Lord through our worship of other gods. May we learn from the mistakes that Israel made.  As New Testament people, even more is at stake. “For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.” (2 Corinthians 5:10)  God’s rewards for those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and obey His commandments are more numerous than this blog could contain.

Consider Philippians 4:19, “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”  Jesus said, speaking of His followers, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)  “When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love…I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” (John 15:10-11)  And one day we will experience His reward of eternal life, “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Excessive joy, provision, God’s continual love, abundant life and countless other rewards here on earth and then eternal life in Heaven!  I don’t know, I just can’t think of any desire or disobedient act that is worth the risk of losing any of it.  I want all the rewards that come with my obedience to God’s commandments.  God’s nice list, if you will, the list of the redeemed, is the Lamb’s Book of Life, and that’s the list I want to be on! 

Moving Forward: I’m looking forward to walking in His blessing and reward today, obeying His commands and listening to His voice. 

Tomorrow @ Nehemiah 10-13

2 John (NLT) 

Discover His heart: His cautions protect us from today’s false prophet

Christmas is the time of year when the gift of hospitality is in full swing.  Homes are cleaned and decorated, ovens are filled with special treats for the holidays and families and friends meet to celebrate.  By January 2, most of us are exhausted from all of this frivolity and are happy to stay in the quiet of our homes with a bowl of soup, but it was grand while it lasted.

As a rule, we open our homes to our families and friends and even occasionally to those who are simply acquaintances, but we would never intentionally open the door to those who would disrupt our home or harm us.  Unfortunately, sometimes it happens, and the apostle John wrote a little letter of warning to us about it.

2 John is the second shortest book of the New Testament, second only to 3 John, but its size doesn’t limit its importance.  Some believe it was a letter written to a particular woman in the church who hosted traveling preachers as well as small meetings.  Others believe it was a letter to the church in general and a caution regarding the traveling preachers that it welcomed.  Regardless of its recipient, the message is a caution for us today as well.

John began his letter with yet another admonition to love, “Love means doing what God has commanded us, and He has commanded us to love one another, just as you heard from the beginning.  I say this because many deceivers have gone out into the world. They deny that Jesus Christ came in a real body. Such a person is a deceiver and an antichrist.” (6-7)  In the same breath as his message of love, John warned about false teachers who had infiltrated the church with the false message that Christ did not really come in the flesh to the earth but only seemed to have a body that died on the cross.  It was a heresy known as docetism, and it is still around today.

The same deceiver who perpetuated this lie in the early church will do everything he can to dilute the power of the cross today, and if we’re not diligent, we will invite these false prophets into our homes without realizing it.  When a popular television talk show host introduced a more “enlightened way to spiritual living,” many who claimed to be Christians ran to the stores to buy the suggested book.  In their very own homes, they watched the host and her spiritual guru on television spit out false doctrines that diluted the gospel of Jesus.

“If anyone comes to your meeting and does not teach the truth about Christ, don’t invite that person into your home or give any kind of encouragement.  Anyone who encourages such people becomes a partner in their evil work.” (10-11)  Not wanting to be partakers in their evil work, we want to be cautious of all those who enter our homes whether it be through the front door, through television or radio or through any form of media.

I especially enjoy entertaining family and friends at this time of year, but if I entertain someone I don’t know, let it be a dear soul in search of the Savior or perhaps an angel, “Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters.  Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!”  I’d be willing to take in the whole bunch of Heavenly Hosts who announced the birth of Jesus and serve them, none other than, angel food cake! 

Moving Forward: May we protect our homes and families today from anything that would dilute or deny the Christmas message or the power of the cross. 

Tomorrow @ Deuteronomy 26-28

Revelation 1-6 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He redeemed our lives through His Son, the Lamb of God

Several years ago I sent a Christmas card to family and friends that had a picture of a lion and lamb resting together under a starry sky with the inscription, Peace on Earth.  I received several comments about the card and the wonderful message it brought to our hearts on many different levels.  At first glance, the peaceful setting spoke of the Christmas message and Christ’s coming to earth to bring peace to even the most unlikely scenarios, but in light of our scripture today, we come to an even greater understanding of the meaning behind the Lion and the Lamb. 

@ Revelation 5
The apostle John had been banished by the Romans to the island of Patmos for preaching the gospel.  Now in his solitude, he received an extraordinary vision from God, “This is a revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants the events that must soon take place. He sent an angel to present this revelation to his servant John, who faithfully reported everything he saw. This is his report of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.” (1:1-2)

Through revelation, John was to give a report of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ!  What a daunting task!  Yet, while our witnessing is not the recorded Word of God, we are representing the testimony of Jesus Christ in part as we share the good news and what he has done for us.  We, too, have been given a task.

In Revelation 5, God held a scroll about the future, but no one was found worthy enough to open it.  As John wept over this dilemma, one of the 24 elders called out, “Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.” (5)  Jacob’s deathbed prophecy, found in the very first book of the Bible, talked about this Lion, “Judah, my son, is a young lion that has finished eating its prey…The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants, until the coming of the one to whom it belongs, the one whom all nations will honor.” (Genesis 49:9-10)  Jesus, the Lion!

Imagine the excitement that rose in John’s heart in anticipation of seeing the Lion of Judah, the powerful King, the mighty Ruler.  But John did not see a lion.  No, he saw a lamb. “Then I saw a Lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered, but it was now standing between the throne and the four living beings and among the twenty-four elders.” (6)  We will never really understand and fully realize the kingship of Jesus until we see Him first as the lamb, the lamb that had been slaughtered to remove our sins.  John the Baptist recognized Him when he called out, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)  Jesus, the Lamb!

This is the truth of my Christmas card – Jesus came as a sacrificial lamb, pure and spotless, to remove the stain of sin from our lives.  Yet, He is the Lion, our resurrected King, whose victorious reign is worthy of all praise.  “And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang:  ‘Blessing and honor and glory and power belong to the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever.’ And the four living beings said, ‘Amen!’ And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped the Lamb.” (13-14)  The lion and the lamb.  I fall down and worship. 

Moving Forward:  May my life testify today of the Lamb of God and what He has done in my life.  And I pray this testimony will draw others to the true meaning of Christmas. 

Tomorrow @ Acts 21-22

Leviticus 22-24 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He is blessed by our celebration of His goodness

As somewhat of a foodie, I am immediately attracted to any chapter in the Bible that is all about feasts.  Foodie or not, all of us have good memories of holidays, festivals and celebrations through the years, most involving visits with family and friends and consuming lots and lots of good food.  As a child, I knew it was Thanksgiving when I woke to the smell of roasting turkey and pumpkin pie, and Christmas was undoubtedly right around the corner when I smelled cookies baking in the oven all day long.  What birthday celebration is complete without the traditional decorated cake with gooey buttercream frosting? Decorated eggs at Easter and grilled hot dogs on the Fourth! We have so many memories of delightful days spent celebrating momentous occasions. 

@ Leviticus 23
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Give the following instructions to the people of Israel.  These are the Lord’s appointed festivals, which you are to proclaim as official days for holy assembly.’” (1-2)  The feast or festivals mentioned in Leviticus 23 played a significant role each year in the lives of the Israelites.  Life was difficult during those early years on the road to Canaan, and the festivals were welcomed opportunities for relaxation and celebration for the Israelites.

The feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread centered around their deliverance from Egypt; the feasts of First Harvest, Harvest (Pentecost) and Trumpets were feasts of thanksgiving for God’s provision and blessing on their lives.  The Day of Atonement was actually a day of fasting as offerings were given to atone for their sin as individuals and as a nation, and the feast of shelters celebrated God’s protection and guidance in the wilderness.  These feasts were observed throughout the centuries, including the time of Christ, but for most of this time period, the impact of what they were celebrating was lost because their hearts were seeking other gods and other things to worship.

Often we are so busy with all the preparation and festivities for our holidays, we, too, forget what we’re celebrating.  For secular society, this is true, but even as Christians, we forget.  Our hearts are there, but our lives get so very busy.  If we think about it, we can see that the celebration of Jesus at Christmas and at Easter is a combination of all the Jewish feasts.  With thankful hearts we celebrate the deliverance and atonement for our sins, so grateful for the tiny babe who came and grew to become our sacrifice as well as our Shepherd who guides and protects us through our wilderness.

We, however, look forward to yet another feast, “Let us be glad and rejoice, and let us give honor to him.  For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself…Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” (Revelations 19:7,9)  All other feasts, festivals and celebrations pale in comparison to this wedding feast when we, His Bride, join with our Savior to celebrate eternal life together.  This foodie is not going to miss this one!  I’ve already received the invitation!

I decided in my heart several years ago that I was going to spend some time every day celebrating Christmas and Easter.  While no food is involved in these daily celebrations, the joy is amazing.  Every day I thank God for sending His only Son.  He didn’t send a substitute or facsimile. He sent the only part of Him that was His Son, His Heir, with the knowledge of what the future held for Him.  Every day I thank Jesus for His willingness to come, leaving a place more glorious than I can imagine, willingness to suffer sin and humiliation for me on the cross.  And every day I thank Him for the empty tomb and the power of the risen Lord.  Sometimes I sing, sometimes I dance and sometimes I just sit and visit with Him, but regardless, it’s a grand celebration.  Christmas and Easter every day! 

Moving Forward: After celebrating this morning, I think it’s time to go out and spread some Christmas cheer! 

Tomorrow @ 2 Kings 21-25