Who Was Missing In Bethlehem?

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ” Matthew 2:2-6

Herod knew whom to ask about this new baby King, the one he feared would be a threat to his throne.  He went straight to the Jewish priests and scribes who knew the scriptures.  When asked, they immediately quoted this passage from Micah about the Messiah being born in Bethlehem.  These religious leaders didn’t even need to consult with each other nor ask for a window of time to go search the scriptures for the answer.  It was on their tongue.

So where were they at the birth of Jesus?  We hear no accounts of any religious leaders coming to bow down at the manger to worship.  Jerusalem was only seven miles away whereas the Magi, if they came from Persia, traveled a thousand miles.  This baby would grow up to reveal that the gate is wide for those who reject the Messiah and narrow for the few who actually seek Him out.  Never was this more exemplified than in the scarcity of worshipers at His birth.

The message is clear.  Knowing a lot of truth and actually being engaged with the heart are two completely different experiences.  When both are present, when my quest for knowledge is love-driven, it is a beautiful thing.  But what a tragedy when knowledge and passion are mutually exclusive.  I can easily become as callous as those who lived around the corner from Mary and Joseph but weren’t spiritually alive enough to see if Jesus was really the One they had been longing for throughout their entire Jewish history.

Jesus is the end of my quest.  Whatever it takes to journey to Him is worth any effort and any sacrifice.

I am challenged, every day, by what it means to walk the narrow way.  I will stay on my quest to search for You with my whole heart.  Amen

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How Zeal Can Repel

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory.  John 1:14

We know that passion can fuel dangerous causes but it can also advance the kingdom of God. Take a look at this recent video in which a group of Christians in China receive their first Bible.   http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=0FECC1NU

Am I surprised?  I shouldn’t be.  Once I embrace Jesus, will I not embrace His Words?  Will they not precious to me?  Will I not be challenged to love what He loves?  Will I not grow a distaste for the things He hates?

If I find myself today to be lukewarm, a condition which God detests, I will also discover that I am void of passion.  I’ve lost it somewhere and must figure out where, and why.  In the meantime, there is little more dangerous to my soul than hanging around others who are also lukewarm. Once the Spirit of God revives me, I’ll begin to second guess myself and feel like a freak for caring so deeply about what they so easily dismiss.

If dispassionate Christians comprise the hub of my fellowship, I will attempt to share the most beautiful and personal things of the Spirit with others who squirm to confirm them.  My zeal makes them uncomfortable and when my stories fall flat, I will be undone. The next time around, I will reign in my emotions because I know that to fit in, my fire needs to be repressed.

I’ve asked myself this question today.  If the Scriptures were taken from me, would I be as upset – on the continuum – as those Chinese Christians are joyful?   Do my friends resemble this particular body of believers?  If so, our fellowship is contagious and combustible.  If not, perhaps it’s time to change spiritual company.

I’ll never leave the company of those who are on the move for Your kingdom.  I’ll never settle for less than fellowship with passionate worshipers.  Amen

How Young Did He Know?

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.  Luke 2:52

What did Jesus know as a young child? As He matured and as He taught, did He consider the many cultures in the future when choosing illustrations? Did He know that 2,000 years later, the twin towers would come down? Did He know, as men rode by on donkeys and on horseback, that men would one day board a spacecraft and visit the moon? Did the Great Physician know that one-day, life would be sustained artificially through breathing machines and feeding tubes?

Did Jesus fully remember living in heaven? Did He remember creating the earth? Did He remember the decision the Godhead made about Him coming to earth? Did He remember meeting Enoch and Elijah when they escaped death and were carried into heaven? Did He remember standing in the fire with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego? If so, did He tell anyone about His past?

If He knew, as a man, as much as God knew, then when did He know it all? Was He born with the knowledge? As a baby, his limitations were similar to ours. He babbled and cried as an infant. He had to learn to speak as a toddler. He couldn’t have known all things in His infancy since He was unable to articulate them. Right? So did knowledge of the universe just come upon Him gradually as He matured? Did the Father tutor Him and reveal the full knowledge of God in its entirety? And if so, at what age was it complete?

In various conversations with others, Jesus’ wisdom about the kingdom appears vast. Did He draw from His wellspring of omniscience or, under the Father’s anointing, did God grant Him only snippets of divine insight?

God is omniscient and since Jesus was God, some argue that He had to know all things even though He was also a man. I don’t know the answers to these questions. Tthese are the mysteries of the kingdom that captivate believers. We are meant to ponder, and wonder, and explore. Amazement should never leave our faces.  The wide-eyed curiosity of child-likeness lives with us in this life, and most certainly, in the next.

I love asking questions, Jesus. Amen

What’s Your ‘Census’?

“And Joseph went up from Galilee, from Nazareth, to the city of David, in order to register, along with Mary, who was with child.  And it came about that while they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.”  Luke 2: 4-6

Caesar Augustus gave a decree that a census was to be taken.  This law affected everyone, the rich, and the most common people in the most obscure places.  It reached Joseph and Mary at a most inopportune time, tucked away in Galilee.  We’re not told how far along Mary was in her pregnancy but I’m sure that the thought of such a trip was unwelcome, even overwhelming.  Nonetheless, this journey to Bethlehem became necessary so that they might comply with the law and register for the census.  Did they strain against such news?  I feel certain they did.  Was God in it?  Absolutely.  Hindsight proves it.  Prophetic words from ages past foretold that a Savior would arise out of Bethlehem.  God used Caesar’s mouth, a census, and a difficult journey for a pregnant woman to fulfill prophetic words.

God is in the ordinary events of my day, too.  When I am hit with unemployment, sickness, an unexpected move out-of-state, I can despair thinking that God has turned His back momentarily.  I can fear that I’m worth little, just something to be tossed around like a rag doll.  Little do I know that these events are like the ‘census’, steering me on to the next thing God has for me.  The seemingly catastrophic event is really like a rudder getting me to Bethlehem.  I can’t see it at the time but I need to remember that my trust in God need not be shaken.  Not then, not ever.

I’ll say it again, Lord.  There’s no such thing as a dead end.  I’m on your journey to blessing.  I have absolute confidence in You, God.  In Jesus name, Amen

Journal Question:  Why are you so quick to distrust God?  What is the history of your unbelief?  Name three events for which you still have no understanding.  It appears God was cruel.  What might Mary tell you today about God’s plan for your life?

The Precise Language of Jesus

The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut off. The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked, what is perverse. Proverbs 10:31-32

Just as I had to learn to talk, Jesus had to learn it too.  It wasn’t long before He was too big to sleep in Mary’s arms.  He became an active toddler, embarking on the learning curves of life.  It’s hard to imagine a child who was sinless in how he related to adults.  He was perfect and though I’m sure His personality was evident in the way He spoke, his speech was without sin.  He teaches me whether I think of Him as a toddler, an adolescent, or adult.

One thing is common among the flawed human race. We all use superlatives and paint with a broad brush in ways that are self-serving. When I’m angry and I feel like I need to make my point, I will say, “You never care about how I feel.” Do I really mean ‘never’? Probably not, but I believe that the exaggeration will increase the possibility that I’m taken seriously. When frustrated, I will misuse the word ‘always’. “You always come home late.” Is that true? Probably not. But there were enough times to set a precedent and enough times to inflame my frustration.

Then there are overused words like ‘incredible’, ‘amazing’, and ‘life-changing.’ These marketing triggers have invaded the church and colored the claims of those who use them until they are virtually meaningless. They’re thrown around as a way to increase attendance and/or convince someone that something is more effective than it really is. Here’s the thing; few things are incredible, amazing, and life-changing and when they are, I want to know that there are words available to adequately describe them.

Jesus was precise in his language. When He said, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God”, He meant all. Every single person. In the upper room, when He said, “Tonight, one of you will be betray me”, I can know that He meant only one. Did that mean that none of the rest of the disciples ever let Him down? No. He teaches us about intent and what is premeditated as opposed to slipups. The other eleven disciples, though imperfect, possessed good faith efforts.

The difference between the ways Jesus talked and the way I talk is vast.  He never had ulterior motives. There was never a selfish agenda that colored his speech. He said what He meant and every superlative was true. When He promised abundant life, I cannot fathom the far-reaching heights of such abundance.

As a flawed woman who wants to be more like Jesus, I have to curb the temptation to exaggerate in order to bring relief to my pain and frustration. This is where God promises grace. In the trenches, I must pray and ask God for the wisdom to speak with integrity. Every superlative must be under the control of the Spirit of God and if I’m worked up and know that I can’t trust myself to speak well, I should be quiet until I can. Wisdom knows the power of restraint.

This year, Lord, I’ll be working on it. Amen

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The Relationship Between Panting and Christmas

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.  Psalm 42:1

If my heart longs for God as the Psalmist’s does, then the coming of Jesus has huge ramifications for me.  Jesus is God and all of my longings are satisfied in the coming of the Messiah.

My soul pants for a God who came near as my Emmanuel.

My soul pants for a God who was vulnerable enough to become a baby, only to suffer before saving.

My soul pants for a God who, at 30, saw hypocrisy and hard-hearted rebellion in the religious elite and confronted it head on.

My soul pants for a God who, when presented with a woman caught in adultery, extended forgiveness and love instead of condemnation.

My soul pants for a God who was powerful enough to offer up His life when it was heaven’s time.  He was not a victim, but a triumphant Victor.

My soul pants for a God who told me the truth about my sin so that I could find the joy of forgiveness and the exhilaration of love given without any conditions.

My soul pants for a God who was born to serve through suffering, not to rule through intimidation.

My soul pants for a God who called me friend, not enemy.  Bride, not harlot.  Forgiven, not condemned.  Free, not enslaved.  Loved, not spurned.

9 days till Christmas morning.  My soul pants for You, O God.  Whatever You say, whatever You require, whatever You offer, I’m yours.  In Jesus name, Amen

When Faith Is Fragile

And Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months, and then returned to her home.  Luke 1:56

When Mary became pregnant by the Spirit of God, she picked up her things and went straight to Elizabeth’s house.  When Elizabeth saw her, she knew something momentous had taken place.  She immediately prophesied over her and provided a place for Mary to spend the most tenuous time of any woman’s pregnancy – the first trimester.

When Mary experienced the most severe symptoms of morning sickness, she was safe in Elizabeth’s care.  When Mary first deliberated the cost of carrying the son of God, she was with the one who was safe for her spiritually.  When Jesus’ life was the most fragile, his mother cared for him best by securing the best possible environment.

There can be many reasons why faith is fragile.  Symbolically, Like Mary, I can be pregnant with God’s calling on my life.  The first days and months after God has spoken to me is the most critical time to be a guardian of that ‘new thing’.  That is the time when I’m prone to question what I heard Him say.   I’m also the most vulnerable to others talking me out of it.  Until His Word is established in my heart and has fully taken root, I must be diligent to keep company with the likes of Elizabeth.  I must secure an environment of safety where His Word can be received, not questioned.

My faith can also be fragile because I’ve walked so long in the wilderness that my strength to hold on is spent.  What I once believed in the light is now a shadow in the dark.  Did Mary have a crisis of faith?  It’s hard for me to believe that she didn’t.  The spiritual mountaintop of her angelic visitation soon gave way to the pressures of being pregnant before her marriage to Joseph.  Who would believe her?  Would they stone her?  Would Joseph want a divorce?  When I step from the safety of my boat into the raging seas, proclamations of faith can disappear.  All the more reason for me to seek out an Elizabeth.  She will comfort and she will confirm God’s promises.  Is this not the very reason God sent out people in pairs?

Solomon said, “Walk in the ways of good men and keep to the paths of the righteous.”  The ‘righteous’ does not always describe every child of God, only the one who is also able to hear and obey the voice of God no matter the cost.  This bears out with the story of Elizabeth. She was also pregnant with a child who would bring great controversy.  (John the Baptist)  Who better to nurture Mary in her most vulnerable time than another woman who was pregnant with God’s call!

I choose my company wisely and guard my heart against any whose cancer of unbelief might threaten to undermine my fragile faith.

Show me how to guard what is so precious.  Minister to me, Holy Spirit.  In Jesus’ name, Amen