Archive for December, 2011

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

For the coming year,

The LORD bless you, and keep you;
The LORD make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up His countenance on you, And give you peace.’
Numbers 6:24-26, NASB

Love and grace,

Daniel & Caitlin

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Love Is An Act of Faith

Love is an act of faith, and whoever is of little faith is also of little  love. — Erich Fromm (1900-1980)

There are so many things in my life which I could have achieved up to this point. There are so many things in my life which I could have done up to this point. There are so many things in my life which I could have experienced up to this point.

I have not achieved many of the things which may have been achievable. I have not done many of the things which I might have done. I have not experienced many of the things which I could have experienced.

And I would not change a thing.

For starters, I may yet achieve, do, and experience many of those things. I do not know, and frankly I do not much care. I am aware of some of these things, but there is no point dwelling on them longer than a moment or two. (“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34)

The things most cherished in my life are those for which I had to sacrifice. I gave up time, resources, and possessions to help others because I love them.

As James said:

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

James 2:14-26

Jesus explained that “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.” (John 14:21) In Matthew 25:31-46, He explained what this looks like. It is those who put their faith and professed love into action by feeding the hungry, caring for the stranger and needy, and visiting the lonely and imprisoned.

The great thing about our Lord is that He teaches by example. God sent promises throughout the Hebrew scriptures to send a Savior. We were told that “God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.” (1 Corinthians 1:9, only slightly out of context!) He demonstrated this faithfulness and love through a miraculous birth, preparing others to hear Him by raising up a faithful witness (John, the baptizer), throughout His ministry by doing all of the things He said those who love Him would do, and going to a crucifix to die to take the punishment for our unfaithfulness. A few days later, He even conquered death and the grave by rising again and offering a hope for everlasting life to those who believe in Him. This is the gospel message. This is the good news. This is the good word. This is the truth.

As Paul said:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 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.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

Philippians 2:5-13

If you truly have faith, you will love others. It is not only commanded, but it is a direct outgrowth of a connection with God. Christians should be the most loving people on the planet. A failure to love is a failure to walk with God. Fortunately, God came to help all of us who fail constantly!

Weekend Words & Sunday Stanzas – 12/25/2011

How about a new one! This past Sunday, 12/18, I wrote a poem that was inspired by “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” and, of course, Jesus Christ.

May we remember on this particular day (and everyday) that Jesus Christ was born to bring peace, salvation, and fellowship between God and humanity. He was born to die, but He was also born to live again! The real meaning of this season is not to celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, instead it is to celebrate our God loving us so much that He willingly limited Himself to be with us.

I love you so much, because He loves you so much and before I ever even conceived of loving you!

Merry Christmas, and may your next year be a blessing (however that may look) that brings you into deeper fellowship with our Lord and Savior.

Bells Have Been Ringing

Bells have been ringing from churches
for several centuries
Proclaiming Christ is alive
and ruling from eternity
Bells have been ringing from churches
declaring the birth of Christ
Ringing to remind us of our sin
and that He had to die
Bells have been ringing from churches
calling mourners to mourn
Calling others to pray for families
of lost daughters and sons
Bells have been ringing from churches
calling the faithful to prayer
Reminding everyone who hears
that the Savior still cares
Bells have been ringing from churches
joining a girl with a boy
Bringing of their loved ones together
to share in the loving joy
Bells have been ringing from churches
to declare the returning Son
Whom at the sound of trumpets blown
will unite with us as One

Responses to Christmas: The Least of These

This last part might be a bit fanciful, but one of the joys of Christmas is having some fun.

When Jesus was born, we read: “She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)

Immediately following His birth, we read: “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.” (Luke 2:15-16)

Eight days after He entered our world, we read: “When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: ‘a pair of doves or two young pigeons.'” (Luke 2:22-24)

A while later, we read: “Magi from the east came to Jerusalem.” (Matthew 1:1)

What is connection in all of these?

Those are barely mentioned, if at all, in each segment of the story: the animals!

Think about it:

  1. Animals had to give up their place to eat for the night.
  2. Animals were left alone for the night.
  3. Animals had to die for the Lord!
  4. Animals had to help carry worshipers and gifts for the Savior of the world.

When Mary and Joseph laid Jesus in the manger, a feeding trough for animals, this meant that for at least that night and into the morning the animals gave up their dining table.

When the shepherds left their herd for the night, as I mentioned the other day, the sheep lost their security system for a while.

When Jesus was dedicated, two pigeons gave up their lives!

When the Wise Men journeyed from the East, it was their camels and horses who bore the brunt of the excursion and lose any comfort during the trip (though I am sure the Wise Men would have mentioned a thing or two about riding animals through desert and mountain paths).

Would you give up your dining table for a poor baby? Would you like knowing you were unprotected for the night? Would like to carry someone else’s belongings for hundreds of miles (or several dozen … no one really knows exactly how far they travelled)? Would you die for someone?

My take on these under-mentioned characters is this: they were unwilling participants … actually, more like unawares … in this story of our Lord’s birth, yet they can still teach us something.

There are times when God will call us to go hungry for the sake of the Kingdom.

There are times when God will call us to step out of our comfort zones for the sake of the Kingdom.

There are times when God will call us to give up our lives for the glorification of Jesus Christ.

I can almost guarantee you that these things happen frequently throughout our lives without us even realizing it.

Think of Chinese believers who are worshiping together in someone’s home, when authorities come in and break up the meeting.

Think of Asian/Arab believers who are going to church, and they get beat up as they walk for simply believing in Jesus.

Think of African believers who sit in prison for reading the Bible at home.

Think of the missionaries who die entering a town, yet their children are able to share the gospel with hundreds or thousands through their tragedy.

Think of that time you saw a man on the side of the street, begging for money, and you gave him or fast food sandwich to help him survive a couple more days.

We are all called to serve. We do not always get an angel or a star to warn us and guide us before our service starts.

Merry Christmas, and peace and joy from our Lord to you!

Responses to Christmas: Strangers to God

I hope you have enjoyed this week as we have reviewed how Mary and Joseph, the Innkeeper, some shepherds, and Simeon and Anna all responded to the birth of Christ. Today we look at some people who had similar knowledge but responded vastly differently:

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Matthew 2:1-18

The first things we must ask ourselves are why the people of Jerusalem were disturbed at this news. It was because the leadership was disturbed. Why should that disturb them? For starters, Herod was disturbed. King Herod was a power-hungry man who looked for fame and control wherever he could. He played nice with Roman emperors and generals to get into his position of authority over Judea. He built several large structures, including the Temple in Jerusalem, to grow in fame. Yet he was also threatened by any potential threat to his power (whether real or imaginary) to the point that he even had most of his family killed to prevent them from trying to take away his power from him. He had rabbis killed who disagreed with him. It is not a far stretch to figure out why he was disturbed at this baby’s birth and therefore had all boys in Bethlehem killed. It is also not hard to figure out why the people would be disturbed by his being disturbed.

We could also consider that the Jewish leadership could be disturbed by this news, as well. When Jesus was walking around during His ministry, approximately 30 years after his birth, it was the religious leaders who gave Him the hardest time. They had also accumulated some prestige of their own, and a Messiah, a coming king, might just throw that sense of power out the window for them.

The Magi, or Wise Men, on the other hand, had no first-hand knowledge of the coming Messiah. As far as we know, they were just scholars who had read the Hebrew writings (essentially the Bible) and studied the environment (they were like astronomers more than astrologers, though a blending was definitely there) to figure out Who and what was coming into the world. If they truly thought this was just another king coming on the scene, they would not have done much else than note the occurrence. However, it seems pretty likely that they knew this King was going to change things in the world.

Think about it: They travelled a great distance to find a baby; they were overjoyed at finding this child; they made, essentially, financial sacrifices; and they worshiped Jesus. They may not have completely understood what was happening (when do any of us really?), but they knew enough to worship Him.

Have you noticed a theme with people directly involved with the baby Jesus? They were all filled with joy! Those who sought to ignore or even remove the child had no joy. They may have had times of happiness, but not lasting joy.

What about you? Do you find joy when thinking about the birth of Jesus Christ? Or are you more likely to be offended, disturbed, or uncaring during this season of the year? Do you go out of your way seek peace, seek understanding, seek joy, or give honor? Or are you more likely find ways to make sure no one else is happy? Does Jesus bring you joy or deepen your annoyance/hatred? A follow-up question to that is “Why?”

It is interesting to note that the Magi were not what we in the West traditionally call “Believers,” yet God rescued them from Herod’s punishment and getting blood on their hands by revealing to Herod the location of the child. They may not have been worshiping Jesus in the sense that others whom we have looked at have done it, but they still knew enough to give Him honor.

Do you give Jesus honor? Both Herod and the Magi believed Jesus was King of the Jews, but they responded much differently to that belief.

Responses to Christmas: Temple Knights

We have now looked at how Jesus’ parents, the Innkeeper, and some shepherds responded to the birth of Christ. Today, some prayer warriors meet the infant (and this will be longer, because the passage is 20 verses long):

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.

When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 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 marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

Luke 2:21-40

These are two people who have spent the majority of their lives praying. One lived a very righteous life, and the other secluded herself in the Temple to pray continuously.

Simeon “was waiting for the consolation of Israel,” and to see “the Lord’s Christ.” His entire life was about waiting on the Lord – God’s humble servant, if you will. His entire life was dedicated to glorifying God.

Anna went from tragedy – losing her husband relatively early – into a life dedicated to God, 24/7 prayer and fasting. She never left the Temple, so her social life must have been rather limited.

Something fascinating about these two is that the moment they saw the baby Jesus they knew they were looking upon the face of the one who could save Israel and all of humanity. It was instantaneous. Further, this little baby had not even done anything of note (of which they knew, such as the immaculate conception … the virgin conceiving a child without physical interaction with a man), yet Simeon and Anna were ready to die. As Simeon said, “you now dismiss your servant in peace.” He knew he would not die without having seen the Lord’s Christ, and he was content – nay, overjoyed! – to have seen this tiny baby.

Sometimes, when reading this story from Jesus’ infancy, I hear Anna start singing “Let’s Here It for the Boy” when seeing Jesus! Silly, I know, but it at least helps me grasp her excitement!

Do you get excited about the Lord’s Salvation? Can you contain your excitement about all the things God has done and will do? Are you prepared for His Encore, the Second Coming? Are you able to discern His presence? Would you have been able to recognize the child as the Savior of the world? Will you recognize Him when He returns?

We do not necessarily have to hide ourselves away in a temple or monastery to pray 24/7, and we certainly do not have to be perfectly righteous in our own right. Christ took care of that part through His death and resurrection. We do have to be willing servants. I have to be. You have to be.

Responses to Christmas: Social Outcasts

We have looked at how Jesus’ parents and a bed-n-breakfast owner responded to the birth of Jesus. Now for some very important outcasts:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Luke 2:8-20

First of all, it is understood by many that Bethlehem was most likely a town which handled flocks used for Temple sacrifices in Jerusalem, thus making the likelihood of shepherds being nearby very high.

Shepherds were the social outcasts of the day. They were necessary as sources of food and sacrifices, but they were viewed by some as unclean (I mean, think about, they pretty much lived with animals more than other people). They supplied a need for society, but they were cut off from society in many ways. They really had a very important job!

They hear that the long-awaited Savior has been born, and they abandon their post. The shepherds left their sheep to potentially wander off by themselves (more than a nuisance than a major problem, as the sheep could probably be found later) or be attacked by other animals (shepherds also guard the flock from danger). These men potentially jeopardized their livelihood to see a baby promised to be the Savior of the world.

They did not stop there, though! They not only praised God, they went around telling everyone they saw about the newborn Savior! (And there was much rejoicing)

What about you? When this time of year comes around are you excited or tired of the garbage now associated with the holiday celebrating this birth? At any time of the year, are you willing to lose everything for the sake of our Lord and Savior? Are you willing to put your reputation and livelihood on the line for the sake of Jesus the Christ? Do you have an excitement of knowing the One True God, that you cannot help but tell others about Him and the love He has lavished upon us by coming as a human? Do you give God praise that our Savior was born? Do you give God praise that our Savior came, died, and rose again for you and me and all who will call on His beautiful Name?

If not, seek Him anew. If nothing else, consider me an angel proclaiming to you the birth of our Lord.

LET US PRAISE OUR HEAVENLY FATHER FOR WHAT HE HAS DONE!