CHRISTMAS MAGIC

Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem

(Luke 2:6-14)  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

            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 that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, 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 heaven,

                  and on earth peace to those on

                        whom his favor rests.”

You hear a lot of talk about the Magic of Christmas at this time of year.  Webster’s definition of magic includes the term “supernatural”.  Christmas is definitely supernatural.  In Luke chapter 2, we read about the birth of Jesus and those who are involved in this one-time event. Think of it, a virgin gives birth, angels appear and give glory to God, and the Savior of the world is an apparently helpless child lying in a manger.  This is real magic; not a slight of hand or an illusion, but God’s kind of magic for it is supernatural.

In our everyday natural lives, we at times experience God’s supernatural intervention.  Someone receives salvation, unexpected generosity, supernatural healing, answered pray, or God’s unforeseen provision.  At Christmas time, we tend to expect these “miracles”.  Of course, God is always at work in our lives, but there is something magical about Christmas.

What could be more magical than the coming of God’s son to save us from our sins?  God’s way of doing this is supernatural, miraculous, and magical. Perhaps Christmas magic is rooted in our hearts because the miracle of salvation has come. 

 I pray that you have a happy and content Christmas celebration, and that the magic of Christmas will be with you throughout the New Year.

THE PLAN OF GOD AND OUR EVERYDAY LIFE

In the first chapter of Matthew, he presents us with a genealogy from Abraham to Jesus.  Each of the people mentioned in this list were just like us going about everyday life.  In all the ups and downs of life, we are all unaware of our specific part in God’s plan.  Yet those mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy are all in the linage of Jesus. 

In his genealogy, Matthew calls our attention to four couples.  These couples are: Judah and Tamar, Salmon and Rahab, Boaz and Ruth, and David and Bathsheba.  They each have their stories recorded in the pages of the Old Testament. 

The story of Judah and Tamar is found in Genesis Chapter 38.  The story of Salmon and Rahab is found in the book of Joshua chapter 2 and culminated in chapter 6 verses 17, 22 and 25. Salmon took Rahab as his wife. His name is not mentioned in the Joshua story, but Matthew’s list confirms him as the father of Boaz.  The story of Boaz and Ruth is found in the book of Ruth.  It’s a great story.  The story of David and Bathsheba is recorded in 2nd Samuel Chapters 11 and 12:1-25. 

The everyday lives of these couples, and all the others mentioned in Mathew’s list of forbearers, played important roles in God’s plan.  Some of them were of Hebrew descent, and some were not.  For three of the couples, sin was obviously part of their story.  Still, they all played a part in the coming of Jesus.  In the course of their everyday lives God brought about his miraculous plan for the salvation of the world.  God’s plan is not finished. 

In our everyday lives, we are living out our part in God’s continuing plan to bring others to salvation.  In the midst of this chaotic world, let’s share the wonderful story of the true meaning of Christmas to all who will listen. Who knows what part our everyday lives may play in God’s miraculous plan.  

WORKING WITH THE LORD

I once attended a church where the common question was, “what are you doing for the Lord”.  I believe the question was well intentioned, but it always left me perplexed.   I felt directed by the Lord to be ministering there, but had no ready answer for the question.  I’ve recently revisited this question, and I believe I’ve discovered a new perspective.

This is what I’ve come to.  I am not doing for the Lord; I am doing with the Lord.  At first this may seem like a subtle difference, but on further thought I have found it quite profound.  When doing for the Lord, I am focused on pursuing my effort.  In doing with the Lord, I am engaged in a relationship that brings about a good work.  I am reminded of Jesus’ words, “I am the vine; and you are the branches.  If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).  He is the vine: I am the branch.  It stands to reason then that I am working with Jesus not for him.  This perspective keeps me from working to find favor with the Lord.  I already have his favor. We are working together.

Jesus’ words, as recorded in Matthew 11:28-30, broadened my understanding of working with him. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light”.   

I want the easy light burden that working with Jesus brings.  I want to work with Jesus not for him.  He is my king, and he deserves my every effort for sure, but his words give me a different focus, relationship.  He invites me to come to him and work alongside him.  He affords me the great privilege of working at his side.

A GOOD LIFE

Most people would say, “My overall goal is to have a good life”.  If you asked them what that means or what does that look like, you’d get a human answer.

Planning for a good life requires many assumptions because our lives are terminal and of an unknown number of years.  This is a precarious platform on which to plan.  We don’t know what is going to happen five minutes from now, or if we will be alive five minutes from now.  Statistically, we’re pretty confident that we’ll be living five minutes from now, but you know statistics aren’t that reliable.

We have only one sure way to plan a good life.  I found that way in Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” The longer I live, the more I appreciate the wisdom of this proverb.  Since we have no clue about the future, how can we plan for it?  The Lord alone knows what the future holds.  Trusting him provides a great life plan.  I’d like to add this amazing truth that comes with trusting the Lord, “in Christ Jesus death is no longer part of the equation.”

GOD IS PERSONAL WITH HIS CHILDREN

Last week I made this statement, “God’s love is personal. As Jesus ministered with his disciples, he knew each one of them individually. They were intimately involved in Jesus’ mission.” The truth of this struck me. We are his disciples, and he knows each one of us individually. We are intimately involved in his mission.

That being said, it stands to reason that by examining Jesus’ interaction with his disciples a clearer understanding of our relationship might be gained. Jesus taught his disciples directly, he occasional rebuked them, and always forgave them. We don’t have Jesus physically here with us to teach us, but his indwelling Holy Spirit teaches us in the most intimate way by leading us and guiding us. Jesus sometimes rebukes us, but he always forgives us. He knows we are humans.

In John chapter 14, Phillip says to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus’ response is very revealing, “Don’t you know me, Phillip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” I take from this that the Father’s and the Son’s interaction with us is the same. The broad perspective here is that God’s interaction with us is always the same whether with God the Father, God the Son or God the Holy Spirit. God is personal with his children.

A great deal of Jesus’ interaction with his disciples is portrayed in John chapters 14-16. Reading those chapters, thinking about how personal these exchanges are, has given me clarification for my relationship with Jesus. I hope you have a chance to explore these chapters and embrace that experience as well.

GOD’S KIND OF LOVE

God’s love is other oriented. God’s love is self-denying.  I’m relying simply on what Jesus demonstrated on the cross to make these statements. Jesus thought about us. He put our need for salvation before his own needs.

God’s love is personal. As Jesus ministered with his disciples, he knew each one of them individually. They were intimately involved in Jesus’ mission.

Today we are recipients of God’s kind of love. He continues to look to us and our needs. He knows us personally and draws us into his family.

1Peter 1:17-21 MSG, Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God. It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in. He paid with Christ’s sacred blood, you know. He died like an unblemished, sacrificial lamb. And this was no after-thought. Even though it has only lately – at the end of the ages – become public knowledge, God always knew that he was going to do this for you. It’s because of this sacrificed Messiah, whom God then raised from the dead and glorified, that you trust God, that you know you have a future in God.

FACING EVIL WITH LOVE

(1 Peter 3:8-9) Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

Continuing last week’s subject of overcoming evil with good, the above quoted Scripture expands on this theme, and includes loving and caring for one another. The Apostle Peter asks us to return evil with blessing. Blessing inspires an active giving in the face of evil, a kindness, an encouragement. This is facing evil with love.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies, pray for them that persecute you (Matthew 5:44).” As I put together these thoughts, the words “God so loved the world” come to mind. When we become his children, these words become a clarion call for us. As his children, we should also love the world. Consciously putting aside hatred, prejudice, and revenge is part of the new life he has given us.

I never want to present topics of this nature without inserting Jesus’ reminder to us, “Without me you can do nothing.” Only in fellowship with Jesus can we ever hope to love the world, and love enough to overcome evil.

OVERCOMING EVIL WITH GOOD

“The only way evil ever wins victories is by making a man retort by evil, reflect it, pay it back, and thus afford it a new lease on life. Over one who persistently absorbs it and refuses to give it out, it is powerless.” (Eugene H. Peterson, Traveling Light, p.188)

I am truly challenged by the words of this quote from the book Traveling Light. Everything in my cultural training and my human nature tells me to get back at someone who does me wrong. Yet, I see in my retaliation, the propagating of evil. How can I change my natural tendencies?

I find in Jesus’ death and resurrection a definitive example of overcoming evil with good. By not returning evil for evil, he brought forth the ultimate victory over evil. I, as his follower, am challenged to carry on his example of good over evil in my daily life. When I think of the suffering and humiliation that Jesus went through, I realize that this is not going to be easy. Perhaps, I can simply trust God and do as the Apostle Paul exhorts in Romans 12:17, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.”

Paul expands on this exhortation in the next few verses then concludes in verse 21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Evil perpetuates evil. When I repay with evil, I will be overcome by evil. The only way to break the chain of evil is to avoid responding with evil. Now there’s an encouragement. Who wants to be overcome by evil?

Jesus gave an example of how I can overcome evil in Matthew 5:38-39, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other also.” So if I hit them back the situation escalates, and I perpetuate evil.

I know that these words challenge our basic nature. Yet, if we are to have victory over evil as Jesus did, we must avoid returning evil for evil, and overcome evil with good.

EASTER THE PIVOTAL MOMENT

Acts 17:28, “For in him we live and move and have our being.”

The life we have, the life we live, our very existence is in God. Contemplating this I realize that God is everything to us. All else diminishes by comparison. The Almighty created everything we know, everything we understand, the entire universe, and us. The creation and the history of it, to this day, is part of a plan that God set into motion from the very beginning.

Galatians 4:4-5 MSG, But the time arrived that was set by God the Father, God sent his Son, born among us of a woman, born under the conditions of the law so that he might redeem those of us who have been kidnapped by the law.

Everything Jesus did while here among us was part of God’s plan for us. Jesus suffered humiliation, torture, and a horrible death on the cross to fulfill God’s plan. When Jesus rose from the dead, our redemption and eternal life exploded forth into his creation. This was the pivotal moment in God’s eternal plan to have a loving eternal relationship with his created ones.

HAPPY EASTER!

SAVED SINNERS

(Romans 3:23) For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

I’m a sinner. Now say it with me; I’m a sinner. Sin is a part of our human nature since the first rebellious act. However, this is only part of the truth. Romans 3:24 completes the truth, “And are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

In my life, especially in my early years, I did some rather awful things. How should I deal with this? King David gives me an example. In Psalm 51, he repents before God for his sin with Bathsheba. He starts, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love.” David knew that God loved him. He understood the love that God has for us which God eventually demonstrated by sending his son Jesus to suffer and die for our sins.

David also asked God to cleanse him from his sin. In God’s sight, faith in Jesus Christ has indeed cleansed us of our sins. Our sins are no longer remembered against us. Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

What I learned from King David in Psalm 51 is to humbly repent before God, and he will be faithful to forgive my sins. In Psalm 51:17 He says, “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”

It is great to be forgiven!

The celebration of the Easter season is upon us. Let’s take time to meditate on the amazing grace God has given us through the sacrifice of his Son Jesus.