Thursday, December 14, 2017

God's Plan to Save Us

...Started with Baby Jesus. From the beginning of time - Creation - God had a plan for us. He desired man and woman to be in a relationship with Him. A loving, perfect relationship. But humankind quickly disappointed Him with sin. One sin after another. He forgave them and they sinned again. And again. Just like you and me. Man sacrificed flawless animals before God as he sought a remedy for his sinfulness. The altars became covered with the blood sacrifices, staining the ground below, again and again.

David wrote this prophecy of Jesus, "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, "Here I am, I have come--it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart." (Psalm 40:6-8 NIV).

God had to send a Savior who would come into the world and begin to fulfill every prophecy written about Him for hundreds of years. Throughout the Old Testament Jesus was revealed as a Savior King who would rule the world and bring us eternal salvation so we could live with Him forever.

Immanuel, meaning God with us, would come as a baby born of a virgin. The most perfect infant, created without sin by the Holy Spirit. God in human form. Solus Christus. Christ alone.

"Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, 'Here I am--it is written about me in the scroll--I have come to do your will, O God.'" (Hebrews 10:5-7 NIV).

There aren't enough fireworks, fancy decorated cakes, noisemakers, piƱatas, or solemn candlelit nights to properly celebrate the arrival of our Savior.

We must give Him our total being. We must be all-in for Jesus... His worshipers, His followers, His believers, His glorifiers in all that we are, all that we say, and all that we do. It is His will.



Sunday, December 10, 2017

Walking Toward Bethlehem

We began the Advent season fresh, with energy and anticipation of what was to come. We made plans for all the ways we would make the Christmas season meaningful and Christ-filled. "It will be the best Christmas ever!" we said. Our goals seemed realistic at first, but soon the list became lengthy and elaborate and time passed too quickly. We didn't get started on the "to-do" part soon enough, and maybe we forgot what was most important: to put our trust in God. Maybe we rushed out the door without our shopping list, or we forgot to check the calendar we are on December 11 with a broken sandal, 35 miles to go, no hotel reservations and the eminent Deliverer's arrival imminent.

The Advent season is a bit like the walk Joseph made from his hometown of Nazareth to Bethlehem, the town of his family line and of Mary's - the line of David. Joseph and Mary must have been very realistic about their travels. They had 70 miles to walk from their hometown of Nazareth to Bethlehem of Judea to report for the census as ordered by Caesar Augustus. It was a long, slow walk and Mary was, it turns out, very pregnant. She shouldn't walk so far in her condition so Joseph presumably put her on a donkey to ride the distance. I wonder if they packed for the baby King, just in case? From what we are told in Matthew and Luke, Joseph and Mary put their trust in God - there were no motel reservations made in advance and no doctor on standby for delivery.

"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times," (Micah 5:2 NIV).

Micah prophesied that the little town of Bethlehem would be the birthplace of the ruler over Israel. The long-desired Messiah would be born as a baby from the ancient line of David, just as God had planned hundreds of years before. And Micah predicted it again, still hundreds of years before His holy birth.

As Bethlehem becomes visible, down our road to Christmas, we must remember that the story only begins in Bethlehem. Jesus' life took Him back to Nazareth, on to Cana, Tyre, all around the Sea of Galilee, over the road to Emmaus, and ends in Jerusalem at Calvary. We must walk all those steps with Jesus so we can see with our own eyes how and why Jesus came to dwell on earth as a baby who grew into the One, the Only, perfect and sinless Man sent by God to give us salvation from our sins, through His death on the cross and His resurrection.

"He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace," (Micah 5:4-5 NIV).

SDG: Glory to God Alone

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Discovering the News

"Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel," (Isaiah 7:12 NIV).

Back in the olden days (40 years ago) finding out about a pregnancy usually happened by a visit to the physician. I'm not even sure there were pregnancy test kits yet. The woman may have had an inkling or may have received a surprise. But, no woman other than Mary received such a big surprise, not even if the doctor pronounced twins or triplets.

Mary had no idea that she was the virgin who would be chosen to carry and deliver the Blessed baby
Jesus. Mary was engaged to Joseph, a descendant of David, but they had never been together. Luke tells the story of the Angel's visit to Mary in Luke 1:26-38 NIV, as follows:

"In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth...The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God."

I can't imagine Mary's emotions at this time. Her head must have been spinning with questions, concerns, and most of all, praise to God for this amazing blessing! She expresses her feelings in song, often called the Magnificat, Mary's song reveals that she believes what the Lord has told her would happen, and that she would praise God and give Him the glory!

"My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me--holy is his name," (Luke 1:46-49 NIV). Mary's song continues to list the many attributes of God that she has seen.

December begins with the proclamation of the coming of Christmas Day. We cannot let the trivial tasks of the season overshadow the real story of Jesus' birth. Let our hearts fill with the joy and wonder Mary must have experienced as we anticipate the day of our Lord's birth.

Monday, December 4, 2017

December Celebrations

The Christmas season blues have found me again this year. I am obsessed with the desire to be with my parents and those who have gone before me. My heart aches for the childhood kitchen filled with the wonderful scents of Mama's baking. When every surface was covered with wax paper topped with delicious and beautiful treats like luscious fluffy white divinity, homemade cherry mash candies, creamy chocolate fudge, coconut macaroons topped with red and green maraschino cherries, chocolate dipped Ritz crackers filled with peanut butter, and so much more.
This is a start from one of my mother's Christmas cactus plants.
I've had it for several years, thanks to Nurse Barb Hilleman who
nurtured the slip from a plant my mother gave to the doctor's
 office in State Center. I'll share the progress of its first blooming
year during this Christmas season.

Mostly I miss Mama, sitting in her big recliner, trying to get comfortable, struggling to breathe, yet giving me the greatest gift of her presence and motherly love that radiated through my soul. And I miss Daddy, sitting in his wheelchair with a beautiful welcoming smile for me, calling me 'Glory' and offering me an undeserved proclamation of pride.

"But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out,"Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir," (Galatians 4:4-7 NIV).

You are an heir of God! Your treasures are waiting in heaven. No more worry about finances or 'stuff'; no more shopping for gifts within the budget; no more filling that emptiness with buying more. God will provide it all. God's awesomeness will fill the air with completeness and satisfaction and unending joy. We will not want for anything. We will have it all: the goose-bumping, bone-shaking, cuddly warmth of the softest blankets, pore-filling perfection of the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ and Father of us all!

Who can imagine such utter and complete joy? It will be blow-your-socks-off, knock-us-off-our-feet wonderful!

Come, Lord Jesus. Come. Fill us with the glory of your presence in the manger. We wait expectantly for the celebration of Your arrival. But, You are already here, Lord! So, surround us with your glory now so we can feel the celebration in our hearts. We love You, Jesus. Come...

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Goodbye, November

Where did November go? I'm in awe of how fast time goes by as I get older. I've also come to realize that I waste way too much time. So as we prepare to enter a new month I feel over-stressed by the things that should get done. How was it that I was able to get ready for Christmas when I was working lots of hours?

I'm swallowed up in a to-do list that only I think is important. I have a pile of unwritten Christmas cards, addressed and stamped. My office and our closet are heaped with boxes and bags of gifts that wait to be wrapped. There are three red and green tubs in the middle of our living room, calling for me to take out the decorations and set up my nativity collection. John even put up the outside lights and our shepherd and sheep display for me. One of the first times ever that I didn't do it.

Even the preparations and Thanksgiving didn't feel right this year. I needed time with family all seated around me telling of their busy lives and sharing what is important to them. Instead I feel overcome and rushed by the details.

All of a sudden I feel the same sadness that clouded the Christmases of the past. It came rushing back as if it never left. How can that be? I'm missing my mother and father; I'm angry with myself for not making time to call my sister; I'm missing my childhood church and church family; I'm missing what can't be ever again.

I'm tired of hearing about the mess our country is in; the big mess. I  wonder what in the world we have done to our country and what our grandchildren will inherit. There are missiles flying overhead and elected officials fighting and men degrading women in the news.

Instead of focusing on the important stuff: the scriptures that remind me of how Christ came to this earth, and all the prophesies that He fulfilled; and the wonderful truth that must be told in this season.

"I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear," (2 Timothy 4:1b-3 NIV).

Goodbye, November. I'm sad to see you go. Hello, December. Bring us news of a new baby born in Bethlehem, coming to save the world.

Oh, Lord, how badly we need Your good news. Heal us with Your nail-pierced hands. Love us with Your gracious heart. Guide us with Your living Word, each day; we pray. Amen.


Monday, November 27, 2017

Still Thankful

Thanksgiving is past but our thanks-giving shouldn't stop now. We may feel we are all "prayed up" as far as giving thanks to God goes, but we are so far behind that I doubt we can ever catch up or be even. Everything in our lives is from God, created by God, and/or because of God alone.

In every moment we could give thanks for the blessings that fill our lives: for the breath of air that fills our lungs, for the beating of our heart that moves blood through our veins, for the powerful tool of our brain that tells us to move and thinks somewhere between 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day (this is highly debated on the Internet so choose your own number), for the recognition of sounds, and the ability to see the words on this computer or phone screen. And that just scratches the surface of what our physical bodies do for us! Think about it.

"We give thanks to you, O God, we give thanks, for your Name is near; men tell of your wonderful deeds," (Psalm 75:1 NIV).

(First, apologies to my Catholic friends, I do not intend to offend you.) Yesterday our pastor completed a sermon series on the Five Solas of the Reformation, corresponding with the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's 1517 nailing of the 95 Theses on the Wittenberg Church door. The five issues that are considered nonnegotiable in the reformed church are: "sola Scripture: Scripture alone; sola gratis: grace alone, sola fide: faith alone; solus Christus: Christ alone; and soli Deo gloria: to the glory of God alone. On this we stake our lives and our eternity," (Rescuing The Gospel, last paragraph of Chapter 16 by Erwin W. Lutzer.

Pastor Adam showed a picture of a musical score by Johann Bach that revealed Bach signed each piece of music with the letters: SDG - soli Deo gloria - to the glory of God. Isn't that how we, too, should sign everything that we do in life? Should not every cookie we make be the best it can be; every sales call we make be as good as we can do it; every moment we spend with our children be filled with love and understanding; every leaf we rake be to the glory of God?

Truly it is to be our goal in all of life, to strive for perfection - or as close as we individually can get. Not all of us can achieve the perfection that Johann Bach reached in writing music; or that Michelangelo did in art; or Bill Gates reached in software architecture; or Albert Einstein achieved in physics; or whomever you consider the top of any category. However, we have our own gifts that we (me and God) polish and shine each day that we work at or use the gift.

I am still thankful, each day, for the blessings God places in my life. I'm thankful for the gift of writing; it is what God is molding and shaping me each day. I'm thankful I enjoy writing and I'm thankful I have the desire to grow and learn and be better and bring glory to God with each message I pen or type.

You can also read Psalm 136 whenever you seek to give thanks to the Lord God Almighty.

"Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvelous deeds. Praise be to his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen and Amen," (Psalms 72:18-19 NIV).

SDG soi Deo gloria - Glory of God alone!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thankful For Jesus Christ

Blessings of Thanksgiving to you all!

A wonderful tradition at many Thanksgiving tables is for each individual to share one thing he/she is thankful for. Most often we hear "family" and "friends", "my job" or "retirement", or "our home". And these are all excellent answers. But of course there is so much more if we get down to the details. I've done some of that in my other November blogs. But today, instead of focusing on enumerating my blessings, I've chosen to pull back and take a big picture view and I saw Jesus Christ over the whole of my life.

"Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus," (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV).

Truly, it is God's will that we dwell in Christ Jesus our Savior. Jesus came to earth as God in human form. As a child he studied and lived among man. He was baptized, taught, performed miracles, healed the sick and even brought the dead back to life. Jesus became a friend to all and showed His love to all, yet there were those who rejected Him. They sent Him, wounded and beaten, to the cross where they crowned Him with a crown of thorns to mock Him. Yet, Jesus knew the cross was His to bear and He took His place for you and me so that our sins could forever be forgiven and so we could once again come into a relationship with our loving God. Jesus Christ's blood wiped away our sins and made us clean again. Hallelujah, what a Savior!

"Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song," (Psalm 95:2 NIV).

"Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name," (Psalm 100:4 NIV).

Today, I give thanks to God for my Savior, Jesus Christ. For without Him, my life is worthless and empty of joy. May our thanksgiving be pleasing to His ears today, in all the blessings we share.

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus," (Philippians 4:4-7 NIV).

Thank you Jesus Christ for giving Your perfect life as a sacrifice for my sinful one. You are my blessed Savior and I give thanks for You today and every day. Amen.