Unwrapping the Gift of Christ, Part 1

christmas gifts

What do you instinctively think when someone says the word “Christmas”? The world thinks of the lights, the decorations, the carols, presents, “jolly old Saint Nick” and his reindeer. Maybe some would think of the manger scene with Jesus as a baby in a manger filled with straw.

But Christmas is more than just a baby in a manger, heralded by angels, and worshiped by shepherds and wise men. Jesus, as Eternal God, humbled Himself, choosing to take on human form. He lived a life that we could not—one so wholly in tune with His Father’s will that He never deviated from it. He was without sin so that He could one day die on a Roman cross. He became the sinless, perfect sacrifice that would satisfy God’s wrath and judgment on us for our sin. That is so amazing and truly wonderful in itself. However, I would like to dig deeper, to see a new facet of the incarnation of Jesus.

Imagine that it is Christmas morning. The kids are all excited to open their presents. You are too, if truth be told. There’s something for you to open. Maybe you already know what it is; maybe you don’t. But there’s no way to use your gift, it is of no practical value until you actually open it.

I remember one year, I was hoping for a diamond. Nothing extravagant, just something that would tell the world that I was getting married! That didn’t happen until two months later, but when Andy did propose, I enjoyed looking at that ring. And to be honest, the best lighting was at church. I really WAS listening, but I also enjoyed looking at that diamond, turning it and seeing it sparkle, the different facets catching the light in different ways, making it more precious.

So what then, should it mean to us that Jesus is God’s gift to us? It’s easy for us, especially at Christmas, to see it as a single-faceted gift. 1 John 4:14 tells us that “the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world.” And we rightfully rejoice in that. But so often in our daily lives, we lose sight of the fact that there is so much more to the gift. Let’s look at Ephesians 1:3-23. I want you to notice all we have in Christ and all the extravagant words–how much God’s grace just overflows to us.

 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ  as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints,  I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,  that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,  and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,  which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

How rich these words are! What richness and abundance that God has for us! The spiritual blessing God has in store for those who are His own. Not that we don’t ever have trouble, because here on this earth, our lives are still marred by the effects of sin. But even in that, those trials are gifts to us. They show us that we can’t live life in our own strength. They open our eyes to Who Christ is. They cause us to grow more like Him and less like the world. Because in Christ, we are:

  • Chosen in Jesus for God’s purposes and glory
  • Adopted into God’s family
  • Redeemed and forgiven
  • Given an inheritance
  • Hopeful in Christ
  • Sealed by the Holy Spirit Who guarantees our inheritance
  • Given wisdom, knowledge, understanding
  • Shown the immeasurable greatness of His power.

Next time, we’ll look more closely at Christ–Who He is, and what it means for us that He is God’s gift to us. In the meantime, immerse yourself in the above passage. Let God’s Word reverberate in your soul, and reflect on how this relates to Christmas.

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When Will the Time Be Right?

TimeIn 2012, I purchased a calendar from DaySpring. At the time, I didn’t realize who put out the calendar, I just liked it, and it was inexpensive. Score! But I didn’t realize what a gem I was getting. Inside the calendar was the usual piece of cardboard to keep the calendar nice. But instead of it being a blank and boring piece of cardboard, there was a message in the form of a poem.

When the time was right,
the sea parted,
the walls fell down,
the lions went hungry,
the sun stood still,
the star appeared,
the waves were calmed,
the stone was rolled away,
the Lord ascended…
And when the time is right,
the King of Kings will return.

God is never early and He’s never late –
He’s always right on time and His plans for you are good.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”
Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

I was so excited! Maybe this was the time God was going to move us on, send us back into the ministry! My husband had been an assistant pastor for about 6 years. And then, he wasn’t. We knew that it was God’s hand, but that didn’t erase the pain and the struggle to make ends meet. Since then, it’s been a roller coaster. Sometimes creeping up to the top of the hill, where you take a breath, before you plunge down the other side.

So, almost four years later from my amazing find, we’re still on the roller coaster ride. Or maybe just on it again. “The time” hasn’t come yet. And you know what? I’m finding that it’s ok. I’m finding that God is faithful. That His grace is truly sufficient for each day. It’s not always easy. I still struggle some days. And you know what? I’m finding that that is really ok, too. As long as I continue to take my cares to my loving Heavenly Father and not wallow in my pain, I am growing stronger. I’m learning more about Who my wonderful Father is and learning more about myself.

I was reading 2 Corinthians 12 this morning, and verses 9-10 ministered to my soul. And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

So when will the time be right? I don’t know. It may be that what I had planned is not what God has in mind. But I do know that when the time IS right, God’s plan will be accomplished. I CAN trust Him, because what He does is good. It may not be easy yet. I may still need to grow. But I know that God is working all things out for His glory and my {eventual} good.

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The Touch of the Master’s Hand

The Touch of the Master’s Handviolin-new

‘Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer
Thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin,
But held it up with a smile.
“What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried,
“Who’ll start the bidding for me?”
“A dollar, a dollar. Then two! Only two?
Two dollars, and who’ll make it three?”

“Three dollars, once; three dollars, twice;
Going for three…” But no,
From the room, far back, a grey-haired man
Came forward and picked up the bow;
Then wiping the dust from the old violin,
And tightening the loosened strings,
He played a melody pure and sweet,
As a caroling angel sings.

The music ceased, and the auctioneer,
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said: “What am I bid for the old violin?”
And he held it up with the bow.
“A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two?
Two thousand! And who’ll make it three?
Three thousand, once; three thousand, twice,
And going and gone,” said he.

The people cheered, but some of them cried,
“We do not quite understand.
What changed its worth?” Swift came the reply:
“The touch of the Master’s hand.”
And many a man with life out of tune,
And battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd
Much like the old violin.

A “mess of pottage,” a glass of wine,
A game — and he travels on.
He is “going” once, and “going” twice,
He’s “going” and almost “gone.”
But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd
Never can quite understand
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought
By the touch of the Master’s hand.

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To Obey or Not to Obey…

GodRewardsObedienceSamuel said,
“Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.
“For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
He has also rejected you from being king.”

1 Samuel 15:22-23

I have been seeing challenges posted on Facebook for a number of things. Recently, it has been a Bible verse challenge. For seven days, you are to post a verse that God is using in this particular season of  your life. A couple of weeks ago, my mom challenged me. I really meant to do it right away. In fact, verses started to come to mind that I could share, but life as it is, got crazy, and I never got to it.

But these verses have been burning in my mind. How often have I known what I really needed to do yet put off doing it just because I did not “feel” like doing it. And then later, I would regret it, confess it, and determine to make the right choice the next time. Yet, looking at these verses, I am challenged to think of my procrastination in a different light. Either I am obeying God in doing what I should be doing, or I am actually in rebellion to Him. We’ve seen kids throw a temper tantrum just because they “don’t want to” do {fill in the blank}. We would call that rebellion.

Yet how often do we do the same thing. Not as dramatically as the screaming child, but certainly in our hearts we rebel. And while I know that God doesn’t reject those who by faith have trusted in Jesus, He does withhold His blessing, and our usefulness is diminished.

I feel like I repeatedly face the same problem that Paul talks about in Romans 7:18-20.

18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

What God is working on in me is to think first and to consider the consequences. Doing what is right will bring the peace and blessing that only only found in obedience. Delaying (rebelling) not only lets the work pile up and become a bigger problem, but it also mars my relationship with the Lord.

By His grace, I want to obey and find peace and blessing that only He can give.

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When You Walk Through the Fire

flames background“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are Mine!
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.
 “For I am the Lord your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior;

Isaiah 43:1b-3a NASB

I am reveling in these verses this morning. In the greater context, they are for Israel. Israel would be going through their time of captivity and would become discouraged and disheartened. They would feel abandoned and broken. But God promised to be with them. God would walk through it with them. It would not overwhelm them because He would be there to sustain them.

As I read these words this morning, the phrase “When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,” really caught my attention, reminding me about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And then it hit me. Isaiah was written before the book of Daniel, before Judah was taken into captivity. Were these young men thinking about this verse as they defied Nebuchadnezzar? When I consider the heroes of the faith in the Old Testament, I don’t think of them having “the Bible” to use as support for them. But these men had much of the Old Testament, including the Psalms that would encourage them in their stand for the Living God.

The phrase “Nor will the flame burn you,” in the ESV reads “and the flame shall not consume you.” I like that word better. It won’t consume me. I won’t totally be destroyed because God is with me. I was reminded of another verse that has been a favorite of mine. Job 23 :10 ““But He knows the way I take; When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” Every fiery trial that God allows in our lives is not purposeless or meaningless. He knows where we are. He knows what we are going through because He is right there walking through it with us. And when we come through on the other side by His grace, we will be more like Him, reflecting more of Him. A little bit purer – like gold.

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If Jesus Wasn’t Guilty, Who Was?

jesus-christ-crucifixion-605Ah, Holy Jesus

Ah, Holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
That man to judge thee hath in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
O most afflicted!

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!
‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;
I crucified thee.

Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered;
The slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered:
For man’s atonement, while he nothing heeded,
God interceded.

For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation,
Thy  mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation:
Thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,
For my salvation.

Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,
I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee,
Think on thy pity and thy love unswerving,
Not my deserving.

Johann Heermann

We sang this song yesterday aswe consider this week, remembering what Jesus did for us on the cross. When this was first introduced to us several months ago, I was simply struck with the choice of words and the haunting tune made an indelible impression on my heart.

The first stanza starts it off by questioning why Jesus was condemned in the first place. He was holy; He had done nothing wrong. But yet His condemnation was by men who passionately hated Him and had to come up with lies in order to carry out their desire.

The second stanza was the most convicting for me. So if Jesus wasn’t guilty, who was? The resounding cry is, “I am!” It was my treason! Doesn’t that just cut you to the heart? If you’re like me, you don’t tend to think of yourself as a bad person, let alone someone who would commit treason. However, we have all at one time or another turned our backs on the God who created us, gave us life to serve Him. It might not be one of open defiance, but even the simple neglect to give Him control of our lives is treason enough. I denied Him; I crucified Him.

The words of the next stanza provide an equally compelling picture. The Son suffers for the slave’s sin. Just that thought is incomprehensible. But the fact that Jesus gave His life to intercede for us while we cared nothing for Him is equally so. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” What amazing love.

The fourth stanza gives the bigger picture why Christ came. He was incarnated, left His throne in Heaven, for me. He suffered untold anguish to accomplish my salvation.

Lastly, the writer acknowledges that he has nothing to repay the Lord, but adoration and service. Why God would want to use us traitors, I’ll never know. In ourselves, we would still deserve God’s condemnation, but He doesn’t look at what we deserve. There is nothing truly deserving of God’s grace in us. Instead, He showed His compassion on us, His great love for us. With His own blood, He made it possible for us to have peace with God.

Jesus took me, a guilty sinner, and made me a child of God.

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A Tribute to my Grandmother, Grace Braymer Mears

2014-02-26 11.25.31Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.
Titus 2:3-5 NASB

In reflecting upon my grandmother’s life, a multitude of thoughts come to mind. This passage however, was foremost in my thoughts. Grandma’s life truly truly reflected the heart of this passage. Her life was one of modesty. She did not have to be the center of attention; she was content in being in the background, quietly serving and meeting the needs of those present. Her words were “seasoned with salt;” I never heard her say an unkind word to or about anyone. She was an able teacher. This is evident in the lives of her children. All of them are upstanding in their character, hard-working in their chosen occupations and ministries, faithful to the work that God had chosen for them. All have served in some measure in the Lord’s service.

She taught her daughters well by example to love their husbands and children, even when it might have seemed like God wasn’t working. She was sensible, pure, and kind. She kept her home in order and diligently worked to preserve the yield from Grandpa’s garden. She was subject to her husband. All of this is lived out in the lives of my aunts, Lucy Hess and Gloria Ruby. She was also a good model of what a godly lady was to be like for her sons, who in turn chose godly young ladies to be their wives.

When I look at the results of Grandma’s life in relation to my own family’s future, I wish that I had more time to spend with her to glean treasure from her words of wisdom. I want my children to grow up as well as hers did. I wish I would have had the insight to ask her those questions when I had the chance. I did not feel the pressing need when she was able to communicate with me. Now that my children are growing, I am really feeling the need for her insight. Even to the end, she was seeking to impart wisdom and godliness. Her last words to me from her hospital bed were “Praying for one another,” showing her heart for others and her dependence upon God.

Grandma was a quiet lady. She loved her husband and family and was content when they were happy. Proverbs 31:30-31 says, “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her the product of her hands, And let her works praise her in the gates.” Grandma, I am so thankful for the godly heritage that you have given me. I treasure it and will strive to pass it on to my children. I love you. God’s Word has been honored in your life. May it be so in mine.

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