Wednesday, December 24

Gifts of the Magi

"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." ~ Matthew 2:10
In reading the account of Christ's birth, I had never noticed (until our teacher pointed this out in Sunday's lesson) that it never says there are three wise men. All the nativity sets and movies portray it that way, perhaps because they presented three gifts, but there could have been two wise men or there could have been dozens! This is not my main point, but it opened my eyes to the fact that sometimes we (I) just read over familiar scripture without really allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to us. We just assume we know what it means and what it has to say.

Anyway, in this Sunday school lesson, we talked about the gifts from Magi (however many there might have been). They gave Jesus gold, which is a gift for royalty, because he is the King of kings. They gave him frankincense, which is a gift for a deity. This was a very valuable gift, and was one of the four ingredients in the incense for the temple (see Exodus). And they gave Jesus myrrh, which was used in mummification and embalming. This represented his sacrifice. [Another new thing I learned: both frankincense and myrrh are harvested from the sap of trees.]

These were wonderful gifts, and had great meaning, but these wise men gave Jesus one other gift: worship. Jesus is God, so he doesn't need us to give him anything; He made it all in the first place! Worship was the most important of all the gifts, because it is what we were created to do.

This leads me to think, what is worship, really? It's not just the time we spend at church. In order to truly worship God, I must truly let him have control of every nook and cranny of my life. I must trust him utterly and completely. I must keep him first in my life. I must let him use me to do his will. And I must appreciate him, not just for what he does for me, but simply for who he is.

Monday, December 22


For am I now seeking the approval of man,
or of God? Or am I trying to please man?
If I were still trying to please man,
I would not be a servant of Christ."
-Galatians 1:10

Too often, I seek the approval of man. It took me a long time to realize this. My great dislike of conflict? The fear I had (ok, still have) of "speaking the truth in love"? Unease about saying no to a request? Unfortunately, it's all related to caring what others think of me.

Even if these things don't bother you, perhaps you care how good your car looks, or maybe you'd be embarrassed if a neighbor dropped by unannounced and saw how messy your house is. A lady in the vet's office the other day was embarrassed that her dog wasn't behaving. And most of us parents have probably had at least one moment when we'd like to crawl in a tiny hole because of how our kids were acting in public.

Sometimes this desire for approval comes in the form of changing how you act depending upon who you're with and what they are doing. In other words, just trying to fit in. We speak about this in relation to peer pressure among teens, but it often applies to adults as well.

My point is, I think all of us have some ways, big or small, that we care too much about the approval of man. Even doing good works can fall into this category. We want that pat on the back. There is nothing wrong with getting a nice pat on the back; in fact, we're called to encourage one another, so we do need to be generous with those pats on the back and words of affirmation. But the danger lies in caring more about pleasing our fellow man than we care about pleasing God. He wants our whole heart, He desires to be Lord of every part of our lives.

Saturday, December 20

A Song in My Heart

God says, "Be still and know that I am God.
I will be praised in all the nations;
I will be praised throughout the earth."
~ Psalm 46:10
My recent readings (Max Lucado) pointed out that this is one of those verses that contains a command with a promise. The command is simply to be quiet, stop doing all the talking, and sit there with your mouth shut. The promise is that if we do this, he'll show us more about himself. We are giving him an open invitation. I think he loves this because it allows us to get to know him better, and anything that improves our relationship with God blesses us and pleases him. I like pleasing my Father, though I don't do it nearly enough! I need to be intentional about taking the time to just be still and let him show me who he is.

Once I let him show me he is God, praise will flow out of my heart and soul. My friend Mari posted this video today, and I loved it so much I had to post it, too. As we prepare our hearts for Christmas, I pray that we'll consider what our hearts contain: "A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart." (Luke 6:45)

Monday, December 15

Good News!

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." Luke 2:8-10

Why did God choose to bring Christ's birth announce to the shepherds first? They were generally looked down upon because they didn't observe all the "rules" about obeying the sabbath (sheep don't take a day off from being sheep), or keep all the mosiac cleanliness laws (hard to do when you live among sheep). But they most likely knew the psalms, and knew that God calls himself our shepherd (Psalm 23:1). We, like sheep, tend to panic (today's economy, anyone?) and are prone to wander. The good shepherd disciplines his sheep to try to keep them on the right path, but is ready to rescue them when they get lost.

The shepherds were terrified when an angel appeared before them, just as we all tend to do whenever we're faced with something unexplainable. But the angel was bringing good news! The long-awaited Messiah had been born, right in their town, and he had come to save ALL the people! Not just some people, but all people!

Christmas is the time we remember Christ's birth. But this same sweet little baby lying in a manger is also the same Jesus who hung on the cross for my sins and yours. What better time than Christmas to get fired up about sharing this good news?

We’re called to share Christ with everyone. This means missions in far-away lands, but it also means sharing Christ with friends, family, neighbors...

This song is stuck in my head, which often means God wants it stuck in my heart. I hope it sticks in your heart, too.

(This is my church’s worship band, by the way, and I’m so thankful they use their talents to bless me & so many others every week!)

Find more inspiration at Spiritual Sundays (yes, I'm a day late!).

Wednesday, December 10


I am copying this entirely from a daily devotional my pastor writes as part of a ministry (separate from our church) called Right From the Heart, because I couldn't say this any better. You can have these 1-minute devotions sent to you by email or subscribe via a feed reader.

The Evidence of Things Not Seen
"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." - Hebrews 11:1

We pride ourselves in being logical creatures who demand proof before believing most things. Yet, a professor can tell us that there 100 trillion stars in the sky, and we accept it without question. We accept as absolute fact that an atom has neutrons and electrons spinning around a nucleus, even though we have never seen any of them. We know that light travels 186,000 miles a second even though we've personally never measured it. And we agree that Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address, and that E does, in fact, equal mc2. We accept all these things as facts without ever demanding the proof of their authenticity.

Yet so many of us will reject Jesus - risking our eternal souls even when presented with solid proof. What proof? The witness of thousands of people who saw the miracles of Jesus. Testimonies from dozens who witnessed His death, then saw Him alive after His resurrection. And what about the fulfillment of prophecies concerning Jesus? Yet even after being shown so much solid evidence, many enlightened, logical people reject Jesus as "just some myth for the gullible." In fact, the divinity of Jesus is just about the only thing people refuse to accept, even when evidence is overwhelming. Tell me, where's the logic in that?

What about you? Are you willing to accept the truth of Jesus on faith? In fact, it's the ONLY way you can accept Him. So, go ahead, take that leap of faith. Once you do, your life will be changed forever.

Tuesday, December 9

Awesome Wonder

O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made.
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

When through the woods and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook and feel the gentle breeze.

And when I think that God, His Son not sparing,
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in.
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

Then sings my soul, My Savior God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

Sometimes God's creation takes my breath away and I marvel at the fact that the same God who is capable of creating a whole UNIVERSE also made little ol' me! Not only did he make me, but he also cares about the most intimate and seemingly trivial details of my life. Every day should leave me speechless at his wonders. Even the ordinary, mundance days. He is no less God on those days than He is on the glorious days; I just happen to be paying less attention. I love that line in the movie "The Color Purple" about God being ticked off when we just walk past the color purple and don't even notice. He didn't just make this world functional; He made it beautiful, complete with birds that sing and sunsets that glow, rivers that glisten and make lovely soothing sounds, spiders capable of weaving intricately beautiful webs...

I should pay attention to all the wonders, big and small, each and every day, and praise the God who made it all. This is the day the Lord has made. Let's all rejoice and be glad in it!

Saturday, December 6

How Deep?

"I pray that Christ will live in your hearts by faith and that your life will be strong in love and be built on love. And I pray that you and all God's holy people will have the power to understand the greatness of Christ's love—how wide and how long and how high and how deep that love is." Ephesians 3:17-18
I've just started reading Max Lucado's The Great House of God and the Holy Spirit is already using him to and this book to speak to me about some truths that I need to sink in deep. This book focuses on the Lord's Prayer, but emphases how much God loves us; how he loves it when we call him Father; that he adopted us not because of what we had to offer, but because of our own need; that we are his children. One of the things I love about Max Lucado's writing is that he makes God seem so accessible. Which, of course, he is, but I tend to forget that.

The day before I started reading this book, I was reading in Ephesians, and came across the verse above. It jumped out at me, and I love it when that happens. I want what the apostle Paul is talking about here: I want my life to be built on Christ's strong love, and I pray that I—and every believer—will be able to comprehend the magnitude of God's love. Without Christ in us, I don't think that's even possible. We can't begin to understand that kind of love unless Love (with a capital L because I'm referring to God here) lives in us. Christ does live in me, but I still have a hard time seeing God as a loving father; I think I have more than a holy reverence sort of fear of God. I still have a little of the mentality that he's sitting on his big throne in heaven waiting for an excuse to zap me. I have been talking to him about this, and I know it isn't true, but sometimes knowing something and getting my heart to believe it is a different matter entirely. May you and I know how wide and how high and how long and how deep God's love for us is.

Wednesday, December 3

Salty Enough?

Here it is! My summary of the LAST chapter of my group's study, Lord, Only You Can Change Me by Kay Arthur.
"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." Matthew 5: 13-16
In one of those neat God-timing things, we studied salt and it's uses (in our homeschool lesson) the very same week I did this chapter of our study. I love it when He does that. {grin} For instance, Roman soldiers were paid in salt! And of course salt is used to preserve things, and to flavor things.

I love this point Kay makes here: the amount of salt in a recipe matters. That means that each and every one of us matters; our "saltiness changes the flavor of the world." But if salt loses it's flavor, it's not good for anything but to be trampled underfoot.

Another things salt does: makes you thirsty. If we are being salty enough, then our saltiness should be causing others to thirst--for God!

I learned a few things I'd never realized about Lot in this study. When the angels came to rescue him from Sodom before the town was destroyed, he had no influence with those around him. His sons-in-law laughed at him, the men of the town threatened to do vile things to him, and his wife only reluctantly followed him. His salt had lost it's flavor. But in 2 Peter 4-9, the Bible tells us that the Lord considered Lot a righteous man whose soul was tormented daily by all that went on in that town around him. And it tells us "the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation..." So Kay asks us to consider: Are we being salty enough, or are we being corrupted? There is no middle ground.

Light. It has one purpose: to light the darkness. God is Light, and we must help others find their way through the dark to find Him. If a candle or lamp doesn't give light, what use is it? We need to be doing good works, but we must be careful to reflect all glory or honor back to God. It's like that saying I love, "Be the moon; reflect the Son."

Tuesday, December 2

Peace & Persecution

Let's see if I can sum this up more succinctly than usual. We finished our study group the week before Thanksgiving, but I am just now summarizing chapter 8 of Lord, Only You Can Change Me.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:9-10

Peace is not just the lack of war, it is living in true harmony. But we can't achieve true harmony with our fellow man until we have true harmony with God. God IS peace. I never put that together with this verse until this study: "And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.'" Did you get that? I've always thought it meant that God made it so we could have a peaceful world, but it's saying that He sent Peace, as in the Prince of Peace! How awesome is that!?!

As for being a peacemaker, I knew that meant we ought to live in peace with one another, but I never realized the other part of this: we're required to bring the gospel of Christ to others so that they, too, may have peace with God. He died for us ALL, not just a few of us.

Then there is the sticky, icky subject of being persecuted. Of course, that's obvious in many parts of the world, where Christians risk their lives in professing belief in Christ. But we must remember that the Bible says we will ALL face persecution. Most of us will probably never face a life-or-death situation, but perhaps we'll lose friends, or be snubbed by co-workers. And the Bible tells us that ALL of us Christians will suffer, but of course, that will differ for each of us. No matter what we go through, we must remember that we are co-heirs with Christ in the wonderful things, but also in His suffering. And if handled in a Christ-like manner, our suffering may--like Christ's suffering--bring others to God through our suffering.