I is For…Chosen

 

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Christmassy words we often hear related to the letter “I” are fewer in number than others in the word. The short list includes ice skates, icicle, icy, and ivy. That isn’t a very impressive list and none of the words point to Christmas directly. In the song C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S that is the structure for this series and that Jim Reeves made famous, the letter stands for Israel.

 

Israel’s place and position in the world and with God have been a source of contention and debate in the world from the very beginning up to events of this week. For those who believe in the Bible as absolute truth, the evidence is clear. There are 22 Bible verses that refer to Israel being God’s chosen people. The first is in Exodus 19:5-6 (NIV) and reads:

 

“Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all the nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words you (Moses) are to speak to the Israelites.”

 

Many might ask why God selected or elected this group of people, or this culture for such an honor. God answers the question in Deuteronomy 7:6-8 (ESV) referring to the covenant He first made with Abraham, confirmed with Isaac, and confirmed again with Jacob (renamed by Him as Israel). Here are the verses:

 

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

 

Abraham’s faith and obedience honored and blessed God and the covenant was made and sealed between them. From that point on, nothing changed the commitment or the promise. Prophets foretold that from this people through David’s house, a Savior would be born in Bethlehem of Judea. And so it was.

 

God never said this was a perfect group, culture, or faith body, but His own words declare a covenant and commitment that puts Israel, as it should be in the song for the letter “I”. I think it should comfort those of us who call ourselves Christians to realize that since there is more than a little evidence to demonstrate that even after the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ we who believe in Him have faltered, failed, and fallen. We have many times been a contentious group within our own faith. And yet…

 

We, too, were chosen and the rowdy disciple and later apostle, Peter, makes that clear in his first letter written to Christians scattered throughout the world at that time as a result of the suffering and persecution of the church.

 

In 1 Peter 2:9 (ESV) he writes these words:

 

“ But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

 

Bible scholars point out that Peter’s words point to the consecration of sinners into new creations. God has graciously included the Gentiles (not just Israelites) in His purpose and plans. Peter may have been referring to prophecies such as Hosea 2:23 that foretold He would elect others to be a part of His kingdom.

 

So, how does all this fit with Christmas?

 

God chose His Son, Jesus, to be the “Curse Crusher and Covenant Keeper,” for the promises that He made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their lineage. He chose to make a way for any who would believe and receive the gift of grace, to be reconciled to Him, and join Him in ruling and reigning in His kingdom. He was and still is, the perfect gift, the first gift of Christmas! 

 

His birth that we celebrate tells those of us who believe in Him and receive that gift that He chooses us also. Since Christmas is traditionally known as the time of giving and receiving gifts, there is no better gift we can receive than to choose Him who first chose us.

 

That makes us chosen as well! What a Christmas gift He was and is!

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R is For…Curse Crusher and Covenant Keeper

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Listening to the Jim Reeves hit C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S and following this series brings us to the letter “R”. Any child would quickly tell you one of the “R” words for Christmas is Rudolph. Other words that come to mind might be reindeer, ribbons, red, rejoice, rituals, or receive. Those are all true, but the one I did not mention was the one in the song…Redeemer. This stands well above all the rest of the list of words because He was the Word made flesh.

 

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem that night so long ago, many had no idea who had arrived in their midst or that nothing in the world would ever be the same again. Oh, yes, there were those prophecies some of the rabbis talked about, the ones about a Messiah who would come and make things right, but who knew when or if that would ever happen.

 

This was not just Joseph and Mary’s son. This was the Curse Crusher” who would break the curse on mankind that had been present since that awful day in the Garden of Eden when man fell to the devices of Lucifer. To any who would receive Him, the curse of the sin from the Garden would be broken so fellowship with Jesus’ Father, our Father, could be restored and we would not live in separation from Him through death.

 

Lucifer could never have imagined how his plans to rule the earth would be thwarted or that Jesus had been in the plan all along. After all, he wasn’t sure how much Jesus actually bought into the idea of leaving the splendors of heaven to take on human flesh and be common man.

 

Then there was that business of dying on a cross. Certainly Jesus must have doubted His Father on that one.

 

Who would ever volunteer for such a thing?

 

And yet He had done it.

 

He must have agreed because the heavens were abuzz with the arrival of Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem. Lucifer was sure there would be time yet to upend things. He had grown more cunning in his schemes and temptations since that day in the Garden. In human flesh Jesus could not possess all the power He had when He sat next to His Father could He? He just needed to be patient and wait.

 

The truth of the story is that Lucifer was always underestimating God and Jesus.

 

Try as he might at every turn to tempt Him to join in league with his schemes, Jesus turned him down flat. He had thought the cross would finish Jesus off when He had to endure its cruel agony, but that didn’t happen either. Now Jesus had done it all. He had died, gone into hell and crushed death and the curse it held for all mankind and He had risen again. On top of that, He had shown Himself alive to His disciples and hundreds more and the news had spread far and wide of this victory.

 

Jesus had actually done it. He had crushed the curse of sin for all who would believe.

 

He had also kept God’s promise first given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as “Covenant Keeper” that from their lineage a child would be born that would come from the line of Judah. One of His many names would be the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. He would be born in a lineage that would include an imperfect lot of cheaters, adulterers, and a prostitute. Who could have guessed He would choose this sort as a means to His promise?

 

But on that night in a lowly manger, Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph, Son of God, arrived on earth’s stage to free humankind from their sin and folly, to keep His promise of the covenant first given to Abraham.

 

I wonder if we really get the magnitude of this as we approach this Christmas in 2019. Will we too underestimate God and Jesus?

 

Jesus was born into a chaotic world where the Roman Empire was ruling with a cruel hand and the religious leaders of the day were largely lining their pockets and laying burdens on the children of the promise that were often impossible for them to accomplish.

 

It was a dark world when Jesus was born bringing light and truth.

 

It can be easy to look at the darkness of the world in this present day. The result can be fear and trembling. But this Christmas should stand, as a reminder of who is in charge and it should remind us of other promises yet to be fulfilled. Jesus promised to return again, this time as King of Kings and Lord of Lords at the end of the age when everything might look the most bleak.

 

Let us not be like those of long ago who had lost hope in the dusty stories and prophecies the rabbis told. Every prophecy to this point has been fulfilled. Do not doubt His return and this time He will not arrive in an obscure manger.

 

Let us keep our lamps filled and our wicks trimmed as we eagerly await the Curse Crusher and Covenant Keeper, our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

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H is for…Glory and Splendor

 

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This year my new Christmas series looks at what is represented by the word Christmas. Looking at the letters became popular back in 1963 when popular country singer, Jim Reeves, included the song, C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S, on his one and only Christmas album. Eddy Arnold and Jenny Lou Carson wrote the song. The lyrics are a wonderful pointer to the major elements of the story of Christ’s birth, but in the series I want to look a little deeper into each of those letters.

 

My previous post was entitled C is For…Wonder. Let’s move ahead to H.

 

There are many words related to H that connect with the Christmas season. Some of the ones we quickly recall are holly, hanging the greens, holiday, hope, hot chocolate, hot cider, hugs, and happy. The song adds herald angels to the list. We can all agree on that and we sing songs at this season that remind us of this, but have you seriously thought a bit more about this?

 

What would it have been like to be a shepherd watching the flocks when this glorious event occurred?

 

If you were a shepherd back then, you were considered to be among the lowly. Shepherds were often the older men or even women and boys (those who were not strong enough to handle other types of responsibilities), but still they were entrusted with the care and protection of the sheep. Imagine being among them on this historic night. It’s chilly and your ears are tuned in to the sounds of the sheep as well as for any predators that may be near and then suddenly…

 

And so it was that the heavenly host of angels appeared in the inky black sky to the least of these. Luke paints the picture for us in Luke 2:8-14 (ESV):

 

“8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased”

 

Songs refer to these angels as herald angels. A herald is one who precedes or comes before, a forerunner, and a harbinger. They were coming first to announce the birth of the Christ and these poor shepherds were chosen to be the first to hear. It’s not likely they had seen an angel before and now they are surrounded by a heavenly host of angels. Now they are experiencing the glory and splendor of God’s messengers.

 

Glory means magnificence or great beauty and may also mean a luminous ring or halo. It seems evident from Luke’s words there was light cascading in the midst of the angels. Splendor, another word that describes magnificent and splendid appearances, can be used to describe what the shepherds saw.

 

The words of scripture make clear the sight was stunning and beyond anything a person could have imagined. It would not be surprising the shepherds might be shaking. After they appeared, the angels first told them not to be afraid. They are bringing Good News, the very best news ever announced.

 

In the current day of neon and LED lights, it might be hard to conceive of the glory and splendor of the angel and heavenly host; but I believe it would be good to consider the reality of this event unfolding before the shepherds as best we can. Yes, we might desire a close relationship with this Jesus, this Christ Child, but we should not forget we are speaking of royalty accompanied by great glory and splendor. This is far grander than any earthly king’s trappings that instill awe and humbling respect for the office.

 

As we bustle about this Christmas season and listen to the songs reminding us of the events we celebrate, let us not forget nor make common what was uncommon, glorious, and full of splendor.

 

One day when He returns, we will see Him in all His glory for ourselves.

 

Are you watching for Him in excited anticipation?

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C is for…Wonder

 

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It’s officially December!

 

Nearly everywhere you go Christmas music is playing. One of the songs we hear is written by Jim Reeves and begins with the line, “C is for the Christ Child”. It goes on from there to spell out the word Christmas with each letter standing for some part of the Christmas story. Most of you know it.

 

There are many “C” words associated with Christmas also. Words like carols, cards, cookies, candy canes, cranberries, chestnuts, chimney, crèche, and candles quickly come to mind. Another word that is featured prominently is children. Perhaps we think of children since we celebrate the birth of a baby, a child. Perhaps we think of them as well since so much advertising relates to gifts they might want to receive.

 

Whatever the original reason might be, one of the gifts children give us at this season is often the gift of wonder. Etched in my memory is the first Christmas each of my children and grandchildren experienced. They were fascinated with the lights, a tree appearing in the living room, and so much more. They didn’t need to be concerned about decorating or making all the trappings we associate with the day. They could simply be delighted in the new experiences and the wonder of it all.

 

As we grow up there are still special things we associate with the Christmas season. We grow in a deeper understanding of who we are celebrating, but subtly we can lose the wonder of that first Christmas. The tasks of Christmas erode the wonder we first knew.

 

What is wonder? The dictionary describes it as “a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable”.

 

Maybe the trappings of Christmas have become too familiar. We may enjoy the candles, the twinkling lights, and all the trimmings, but we have too often lost our awe of them.

 

We associate the things connected with Christmas with what we must do to make them happen. We may complain about putting up lights and trees, shopping for gifts and wrapping them, baking and making all the treats we want to have. It can sound like Christmas is a chore.

 

When we were children, we received all of Christmas as a gift. It cost us nothing.

 

So often Jesus tells us in scripture that we need to become like children to truly understand His Kingdom. There was a cost for Him and the Father in Christmas. Jesus left the wonders of heaven with a clear eye to the cross He would face.

 

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Could He hope we would become like children so that we would also see, behold, and wonder at such a love and sacrifice?

 

Our deeper understanding of Christmas ought to remind us of words like caring, compassion, consideration, Christlikeness, courage, commitment, and more. It should also bring us back to the truth.

 

God didn’t have to send Jesus to give us a 3-D living example of His love and what He wanted us to know about Him. He didn’t need to give us a chance to be reconciled to Him. God didn’t need to choose to send Jesus as a child born in a humble stable.

 

How confounding that was! How wondrous and unexpected that was!

 

No matter how old you are or how many Christmases you have celebrated, I think He wants you to know the wonder of His gift, His love all over again this year.

 

As the days of this month swiftly move ahead and the lists of things to do grow longer, don’t forget the wonder of Christmas, the wonder of the Christ Child, the wonder of God’s amazing love gift.

 

The glory of Christmas is a wonder! It has always been amazing, unexpected, beautiful, unfamiliar, and inexplicable!

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In the Midst

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Some days…some weeks can bombard us that leave us depleted. Our strength seems to run out faster than any energy sources we put in. Relief and pathways or options out of the storm we may feel we are in the midst of seem unclear or absent. And even though we may have had experience with such times, they still cramp our style, tense our muscles, and weary us.

 

At such times we would love to have a big solution that arrives quickly, but most often that isn’t what happens. God’s grace shows up other ways but leaves an unmistakable imprint of his love.

 

The past three weeks have been a bit like that in our house.

 

We lead a full life and stay active in a lot of ways despite chronic back issues for my sweet husband, but something shifted (Who knows what?) and what was chronic and predictable became acute pain that did not respond to much of anything that usually helps. We called and sought a multi-faceted team to try to sort out the issues and provide relief including a family of prayers (some related and others related only through the Lord’s blood). Here and there the pain might subside for a small period of time, but it wasn’t steady improvement and discouragement and anxiety were nipping at our heels.

 

The appointment we were most eager to have with the specialist finally came and we left early to be sure we wasted no minutes we would get. But on the way there traffic slowed to a crawl and it was certain to result in arriving late and perhaps having the appointment canceled as a result.

 

In the midst of it all an app on my phone suggested an alternate route that we were close

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enough to an off ramp to try. We didn’t know if it would get us there on time, but it was clear the usual route would not so we took the route suggested and arrived exactly when we needed to be there.

 

The specialist wasn’t available, but his nurse practitioner was. We were concerned about how helpful she could be or what level of expertise she could offer to what we knew was a complex set of back issues. She arrived in the exam room with excellent questions and listening skills and spent nearly an hour and a half with us and also consulted with the specialist with the latest x-rays to assure he agreed with what she was seeing on them. In the midst of looking for the “big” person with a “big” answer, the nurse practitioner met us in ways we could not have expected.

 

The recommendation of an MRI was the next step recommended. We had no idea how long we would need to wait since the week was punctuated with a holiday. We wanted the MRI right away after learning it’s results would determine the treatment plan that hopefully would lead to less pain and healing, but MRI’s often take time to get scheduled.

 

In the midst of our concern about how long we would wait for an appointment, one was open at another approved facility in less than two hours. Unheard of to have that option within a few hours.

 

On our trip to the facility a half hour away a major crash on the highway brought traffic to a complete stop. Minute by minute as the time passed, it was easy to wonder if we would miss the appointment. In the midst of our fear we would miss it, police rerouted traffic up an on ramp we were near and we managed to find roads from there to arrive at the MRI facility exactly on time.

 

In the midst…

 

The Lord meets us in the midst and sometimes through ways we cannot expect or may even miss if it isn’t one of those big solutions we hope for.

 

He meets us in the midst because He sees. He cares. He’s there even if we don’t sense or see Him.

 

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It reminds me of the story in Matthew 14:22-29. Jesus has been teaching and wants time alone to be with the Father and sends the disciples alone in a boat to the opposite shore.

 

While Jesus is alone on the mountain where He had gone to pray, the disciples, some of whom were seasoned fishermen, are straining at the oars as a fierce wind and stormy sea threatens to upend them. There is plenty of reason to fear and wish Jesus were there. He had been with them in a boat in a storm before and told the wind and waves to be still.

 

Even though He is not with them in the boat, He sees their struggle and goes to them. He shows up in the midst of the storm and their struggle and offers them peace.

 

He had already been there in the midst, but He demonstrated it in a way that was unmistakable out of his grace and love.

 

“But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;”

Isaiah 43:1-3a (NIV)

 

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