Because He Takes Care Of The Polar Bear

 

A few years ago, my son’s Cub Scout Pack got to have an awesome overnight camp out in the Omaha Zoo. I got to go too. The next morning, we were given a private tour of a few of the exhibits before the gates were opened to the public. One animal I learned much about was the polar bear. What I learned was so surprising to me that I still remember it more than five years later.

Did you know that a polar bear’s fur is not white? It’s actually transparent and each hair is hallow. It only appears white because of the way it reflects visible light. Much like the way snow or ice appear to be white.

So their skin must be white then, right? Wrong, it’s black. And they really do need this black skin to soak up the sun’s rays so they can stay warm.

When you or I walk over the snow our feet break the surface and fall into the snow. Yet, this does not happen to a polar bear. Why? Because their paws are so huge, they can measure one foot across. That helps support and distributes the weight of the polar bear over the snow and ice. Basically, he is wearing a God-given snowshoe all the time.

And what about ice? Have you ever seen film of them walking on ice? They never slip or fall. Well, God has made the bottom of their feet with small indention in them. These act like suction cups that enable them to walk on ice. Amazing, huh?

What hit me the most about all this is how carefully and wonderfully they were made. If they had white fur, the sun’s warmth would only reach the top layer of fur, bounce off, and never reach the polar bears skin. The polar bear would not be able to stay nearly as warm. That would make it impossible for a polar bear to live in the arctic. If their feet were made any differently at all, they would not be able to hunt and eventually die of starvation.

So if God put that much thought into how He made a polar bear, how much more thought did He put into how He made you and me?

In fact, the Bible speaks of this very thing. Luke 12:24 says, “Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!”

Christian, I know times can be rough. I know times can be challenging. It is easy to wonder if God is still there. It is easy to wonder if He’s forgotten about you.

But when those times come, cling to this verse. Remember that He is your Creator. There is nothing that He does not know. Remember that He is sufficient. If we breathe air every minute, it is only because our Father has ordained it. The polar bear has eaten today only because the Lord has provided it to him.

Take a look around you. See what He has given you. How many of us have pantries full of food? Yet, most of us never prayed to ask Him for this. But He provided it anyhow.

The truth is that He knows what we need and when we need it. His timing is perfect, always. We may wonder and we may doubt. Times like these fall to your knees in prayer. Ask for His perfect love, grace, mercy, and kindness. Ask for encouragement.

Don’t forget about times in the past that He has provided. Remember who you are and Whose you are. Remember that He is faithful.  Remember that nothing happens outside His control.

Nobody knows us as well as God. Not your husband or wife. Not your mother or father. Not your children. Not even yourself. Yes, the Lord knows you better than you know yourself. And really, that makes sense. After all, He created you. Who would know better than the Creator of what the creation needs?

So times when you are wondering if God still cares about you, remember the polar bear. Remember how He wonderfully created him. Remember how the Lord provides for His every need. Remember how much more valuable you are than a polar bear. If God takes care of the polar bears, He can and will certainly take care of you!

 

 

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Christian, you are being watched!

I wrote this after one of my son’s basketball games nearly a year ago. However, it is something that it just as relevant today as it was then. We, as Christians, are representing Christ. That is no small task! All of our actions and the words coming out of our mouths are a reflection upon Him. We must not forget this.

Everyday Christian Mommy

A couple months ago my son was playing in a sixth grade basketball tournament. He was by far the tallest kid on the court. His height gave him a huge advantage—he was able to get more rebounds and put up more points than anyone else out there.

It did not take long for the other team to get tired of him. Almost as soon as the game began a man sitting behind me started yelling, “He traveled! He walked! Foul! Three seconds in the lane!” Of course the “he” that he was referring to was my son. And it lasted through the whole game.

Yes, it was annoying. But as a parent, it can be hard to take when you feel like someone is being hateful towards your child.

I think we were up by about fifteen points with four minutes left in the game.  About this time the man…

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Because It’s A Special Time

 

“Mommy, are you ready to snuggle?”

Those are some of the sweetest words I will ever hear spoken. Since the time that each of my boys were very little, I’ve worked to establish the habit of taking time to snuggle with them, individually, as the go to bed for the night.

And it’s my favorite time of the day!

It’s the time when the secrets of the day are shared. It is the time when I get to hear about what is REALLY going on in their lives. This is a place where my boys feel safe enough to openly tell of their insecurities and concerns. There is a closeness and intimacy there that cannot be duplicated.

And I love this time.

But it’s better than that because they do too! That’s why they ask for it night after night.

And while I’m snuggling with my older son, my husband is reading books with our younger son. This is a special time just between the two of them. They cuddle together in their special spot, reading a pile of favorite books while they wait for me to come back up the stairs.

Because when I do, their time will be over and ours will be beginning.

Our son will give his daddy a good-night hug, and then I will lift him up and carry him into his room. We will spend some special moments together there, talking, laughing, crying, or whatever he needs. After a while, I will get up, kiss his forehead, and give him a final hug for the night.

I won’t come back until he’s asleep.

We have this routine for several reasons. First, I just like it and they do to. It is a special time just between us. It is not selfish to want to spend time with your children. They are a gift entrusted to us by our Heavenly Father. They are meant to be treasured and enjoyed.

Secondly, I want to spend time with them, individually. They, too, desire time alone with each of us. And as my older son grows and becomes involved in more activities, it is a reality that our time together is less and less.

And that brings me to my next reason, they will not always want me to snuggle with them. They are only little once. They are only little for a little while. And my oldest son is thirteen. I am dangerously close to being cut off from snuggle time. A time when he feels that he is too big to snuggle with his mommy every night. A time when he no longer desires it anymore. And also a time when we can’t do it simply because he is no longer living at home.

But the main reason I do this is because I want to hear about their day. I have an interest in their lives. I love them and care very, very deeply about them. I want to know what is going on with them. And not only because I care, but because I need to know how to pray for them.

So after they are asleep, I tip toe into their rooms. I am careful to not make a sound and wake them as I watch them sleep. They look so peaceful, so serene. I could watch them for hours. But that’s not why I go into their rooms. I go into their rooms, watch them sleep for a few moments before I place a hand on them, close my eyes, and begin to pray for each of them.

This is where I say my most intimate prayers. This is where I plead with the Lord for the salvation of my children. This is where I lift them and all their concerns up in prayer. This is where I praise Him for allowing me the awesome privilege of raising these two special boys. This is where I plead for wisdom that can only come from Him. This is where my lack of strength and His sovereignty is shown to me over and over again. This is where I place them in His hands.

I am not telling you this just to let you know of a routine in my house. For you to say, “Oh, that’s nice,” and go on with your day. I’m telling you this because I believe there is great value in interceding for our children. We ought to plead with the Lord for them. You love your child more than anyone else on earth. So if you don’t do it than who will?

As parents, it is our responsibility to shepherd our children. While it is true that we cannot do the work of the Holy Spirit, that is open their heart to Christ, we must teach them, illustrate for them, and show them Who He is. We must also plead with the Lord on their behalf. None of our children were born with a guaranteed entrance into heaven. This is when I trust in His goodness and trust in His mercy. This is when I ask for His peace that passes all understanding. This is when I am reminded of my dependence upon Him. This is where I place my most precious gifts in His hands and remember that ONLY HE can save them.

Thank you, Dear Lord, that their salvation is not up to me or dependent upon my obedience. Because I would mess it up. Thank you for being the sovereign Lord that You are. Thank you for You love shown to us on the cross. Let me trust in You.

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I Will Look Up

 

I will look up when he tottles into my room in the morning. Oh I’m not ready to begin my day yet. But he climbs in anyhow. He snuggles up close to me as I draw the blankets up over his shoulders. And it doesn’t matter if he’s happy, grumpy, sad, or whatever… My day begins now. But my flesh cries out for more; More sleep, more me-time, more quietness. So I will trust Him with each moment and I will look up.

I will look up in frustration when the new board I had cut to replace a split board on our bench is too short. I had even painted it to match and now I want to hit my head against the wall. How could this happen? I even measured it to make sure it would fit. I will feel my blood pressure rising as I fight to breathe, pray, trust. I will fight the feeling of failure and defeat as I reflect back on a day where nothing went as planned. With a deep breath and a whispered prayer, I will look up.

I will look up when he says those words to me. They are hurtful, wounding, and harsh. I wonder why he would even say such a thing. Does he really believe that or did he just say that because he knew it would hurt me? I take a deep breath and fight back tears that I can feel stinging my eyes. Slowly, like cold air seeping in, I feel insecurities and fears creep around me. But as I turn away I will remind myself of all the gospel truth I read that very morning, and even though I’m feeling shaken, I will look up.

I will look up at the amount as she rings up my groceries. That much? How can that be? I was so careful to choose only things that we really needed and things that were on sale. I can feel that tightening in my chest and trust is the only thing that loosens everything and makes me free. I will turn my attention to the truth tucked into my heart, and I will look up.

I will look up at the calendar and wonder where on earth these days went. The weeks go by faster and faster and is it really a new year again? Is it really 2015? And suddenly my parents are aging quickly and my kids aren’t so little anymore. Did I spend enough time rocking, cuddling, caring for them?  Did I really show them that I treasured them enough? What sorrows will the coming years bring? But instead of dwelling back there or up ahead, I will step into this moment, anchored to eternity, and I will look up.

I will look up at the woman in the mirror. Why does she look so tired? So old? Where did those bags under her eyes come from? When did she get those wrinkles around her eyes? I will look at her shoulders, drooping from the weight of responsibility, of letting many lean hard into her daily life. I will be tempted to despair, tired and overwhelmed. But I will receive His new mercies, call to mind His faithfulness, and I will look up.

As I look back on my childhood, I can see myself standing next to my mother at church, listening to and watching the adults around me sing this simple chorus:

Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!

Morning by morning new mercies I see.

All I have needed Thy hand hath provided.

Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!

It is really that simple. The first and most important order of business, for life, is to look up. Consistently. Persistently. Continually.

I have read through the Bible, cover to cover, several times. For many years I have made the one small, simple, humble habit of looking up every morning. It is nothing big, spectacular or thrilling. It is just a long string a little obediences. It is a simple decision to rise and seek Him first. To spend time alone with Him and in His Word before the day begins. Before little ones. Before the phone begins to ring. Before the onslaught of life comes, unrelenting, my way. Before my conflicting desires pull me different directions. Above all and before all, I humbly commit to look up.

This one small habit has changed my life more powerfully than anything else.

When I seek Him first each morning He hands me the lens through which I see the rest of my day. He orders my steps. He calms my fears. He quiets the multitude of discorded voices in my head. He blankets me with His peace. He directs through His Word. He convicts me, lovingly, through His Spirit. He reveals His love to me each day.

I will make my aim clear: I plead with you, this year, to make a daily looking up habit each day. Read through God’s Word. Pray. Without this one resolution, all others will be out of balance. Without True North, all other goals and aspirations will be off course.

Because sin isn’t just doing bad things. Sin is also making good things into ultimate things.

Without looking up to Him first, we will look up to other things and make them ultimate things. We will look up to fear. We will look up to money. We will look up to other people’s opinions. We will look up to fitness and our body image. We will look up to our to-do list. We will look up to our children’s performance. We will look up to the tragedies and sorrows which threaten to crush us daily. We will look up to temporal happiness and fleeting flirtations with success as a source of our daily hope and joy.

 

My voice shall you hear in the morning, O LORD; 

in the morning will I direct my prayer to you, and will look up. 

Psalm 5:3

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Christmas Is For You Too

 

Christmas has become so complex, so chaotic, so confusing with all the stuff that the reality of the simplicity of the birth of Christ has been blended into the fantasy and lost its significance.

Christmas should be simple, not complex, but very simple. Christmas should be stripped of all of its trappings so that all that is left is the simplicity of God becoming man. That is the only element in the Christmas seasonal celebration that has in it any lasting power to effect life.

There’s no lasting value in any earthly gift or any earthly sentiment expressed. The tree always dies. There is no power in Santa Claus. There’s no power in lights, pretty wrappings or shiny bows.

But what is it about Christ that gives this hope? What is it about Christ that gives us joy in deep sadness? What is it about Christ that provides comfort in loneliness? What is it about Christ that gives peace in fear? One simple look at the birth of the Son of God should tell us the answer to that question.

“She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)” Matthew 1:21-23.

Luke 2:11 says He would “be born a Savior.” Mark 10:45 says the Son of Man has come to save. That is a glorious reality. The apostle Paul, writing in Ephesians 1:7, says, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses.” Now the implication here is that men are sinners and that sin is a damning reality from which man needs to be saved or delivered or rescued. And Jesus came into the world to save you from your sins.

In what sense?  To save you from the ultimate consequence of your sins, namely eternal damnation. To save you, as well, from even the present domination of your sin. But primarily and ultimately, He came to save you in the sense that He delivers you and He delivers me and He delivers all who believe in Him from the ultimate damnation that sin requires.

You see, He was a child born to provide forgiveness for sins. Israel’s great holy day is called the day of atonement. Annually, the ancient Jews celebrated that one day in which a great offering was given for all the sins of all the people through the previous year.

And on that day, according to Leviticus chapter 16, the high priests would select two sacrificial goats. One of those goats was killed, slaughtered, and His blood was splattered all over the altar as a sacrifice for sin. As a symbol of the need for death with regard to sin.

But the other animal was not killed. The high priest would go to the other goat and put His hands on that goat, symbolically transferring the sins of all the people onto that goat, and then that goat was taken into the wilderness so far away that it could never find its way back or be seen again. Symbolically, God ordained that simple and graphic ceremony to show that where there was a sacrifice for sins, there was a removal of sin so that they would never, ever be brought to attention again.

Now that goat that was slaughtered couldn’t really pay the price. It could only symbolize the one who could. And that goat that carried sin out into the wilderness symbolically couldn’t really carry away sin, but it symbolized the one who could. And it didn’t take two; it only took one, Jesus, who both gave the sacrifice for sin and carried our sins away.

In fact, the word “to forgive,” means “to send away, to dismiss.” It is used in legal terminology to refer to canceling a debt or granting a pardon. So through His death on the cross, Jesus took the sins of all of us on Himself and died our death as a blood sacrifice for our sins, and then carried them away an infinite distance from where they will never return again.

The Bible speaks of this.  In Psalm 103:12 it says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgression from us.” How far is the east from the west? That’s infinite.

This was a child born to take away sin. To pay the price for our sin so we don’t have to pay that price. That is why Paul says, “There is, therefore, now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus,” Romans 8:1. No judgment to us. Why? Because the judgment fell on Christ. He will save His people from their sins.

And He has done that. He paid the price. He died the death that we would have had to die and He carried our sins so far away even God will never again consider their existence. Just because of who He is, just for His own purpose, just for His own glory, He forgave all your sins.

What a blessed reality that Jesus Christ came into the world to forgive sin. That doesn’t mean that we don’t commit sin. We do. And that doesn’t mean that sin won’t have harmful effects in this life. Because it does. What it does mean is we will never pay the ultimate penalty for sin. It’s been paid. We will never die eternally. We will never spend a moment in hell. We will go from this life into heaven.

At Christmas when you see the Child, see who He is. Immanuel, God with us. He was hungry. He was thirsty. He was tired. He slept. He learned. He was glad. He was sad. He was angry. He was grieved. He was troubled. He was disappointed. He was tearful. He was overcome by the prospect of future events. He exercised faith. He read the Scripture. He prayed. He sighed with an aching heart. He felt everything. You say your life is in danger? His was always in danger. You say you’ve been mistreated and misjudged?  So was He.

And as you look at that little baby in the manger, that is the Christmas reality. What a child! Jesus, He saves His people from their sins. Immanuel, He is God with us. Sympathetic high priest. Able to understand and to aid us.

His name is not Jesus, Immanuel, King, Christ because He’s our example. His name is not Jesus, Immanuel, King, Christ because He’s our teacher. His name is not Jesus, Immanuel, King, Christ because He is our guide. His name is not Jesus, Immanuel, King, Christ because He’s our friend. He is all of that, but His name is Jesus because He saves us from our sins. His name is Immanuel because He is our sympathizing strengthener. He is God with us. His name is King because He’s our sovereign and the sovereign of the universe. And His name is Christ because He is the source of our life.

Listen, no matter what deprivation a man or a woman might experience, no matter how lonely your life might be, no matter how sad it might be, no matter how painful your situation, no matter how bleak the Christmas season, no matter what dungeon or prison cell you might find yourself in, no matter how strong your fears and how terrifying the prospects of the future to you might be, if you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, you can see through to the One who has forgiven all your sins.

And in that, there is fullness of joy. You do not need to fear that your difficulty is God’s way of making you offer full atonement for your own iniquity. Not so. You, no matter what goes wrong in this life, no matter what is not the way you would like it, no matter how much unfulfillment you face, know this… You have complete and perfect forgiveness for all your sins through Jesus Christ if you place your faith in him and you will never pay for your sins. Christ has done that.  Christ has done that!

And when you know all that, and when you believe all that, and when you confess all that, then you have seen through the trappings, through the simplicity of the birth of Christ. That will make your Christmas significant. Really significant. If you’ll do what Hebrews 12:2 says, “Fix your eyes on Jesus,” King Jesus, Christ Jesus, Immanuel, it ought to make it the greatest Christmas for you too.

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Because She Needed To Know

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Because Christmas is in a few days and I spent last week discussing the miracles surrounding John the Baptist and his purpose in life, I want to take time to share some thoughts on another important figure surrounding the anticipated Messiah, Mary. This is the longest post I’ve ever made, but please, stay with me. I do think it’ll be worth your time.

Luke begins his gospel record with the story of two conception miracles…two women who by all human standards could never have children. The first story is about Elizabeth. Because I spent all of my last post discussing Zacharias, Elizabeth, and the miracle of John the Baptist, I am going to assume you have already read it. But if not, you can read it HERE. The second narrative is about a girl, Mary, a virgin, 13 years of age or so who became pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of God creating life in her womb without a man involved at all.

They had both been chosen by God to be human instruments for the birth of two very, very unusual men…John the Baptist the greatest prophet who ever lived up until his time, and Jesus Christ, Son of Man, Son of God, Savior of the world.

We read the angel, Gabriel’s, announcement to Mary in Luke 1:26-33 and Mary’s response in verses 34-38. If you are not familiar with this story please take time to read it. This is the high point of redemptive history.

I am going to spend the remainder of this post in Luke 1:39-45.

“Now at this time Mary arose and went with haste to the hill country to a city of Judah and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it came about that when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, ‘Blessed be among women are you and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how has it happened to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what has been spoken to her by the Lord.'”

Elizabeth lived in the hill country of Judah, which would be around Jerusalem in southern Israel. Mary lived in Nazareth, a small town in Galilee, which is in northern Israel. They are separated by 75 or 80 miles. It would take her about three or four days to get there. Does it seem strange to you that an angel of the Lord brings such an announcement to Mary and the first thing she does is go visit Elizabeth? Why would she do that? 75 or 80 miles is a long way to travel. So I draw the conclusion that she definitely went with a purpose.

I, personally, think Mary went to see Elizabeth because she knew only Elizabeth would believe her. I mean, let’s try to put it in a normal context. Your 13-year-old daughter comes in and says, “I’m pregnant.” And you say, “What?” And she says, “An angel came to me and told me that I have been impregnated by God and I’m going to be the mother of the Savior of the world.”

Really?

It almost sounds like some kind of wild story that a teenager would make up. Frankly, there was only one woman on the earth who would believe Mary’s story. And it was Elizabeth. Only one place she could go and tell this tale. The text doesn’t say anything about what she may or may not have said to her family or to Joseph or anybody else. It just says she left to visit Elizabeth, the only person who would have any rational reason to believe that what she was saying was in fact true. Telling Elizabeth first made sense.

Then Elizabeth could be support for her when she told everybody else. Because Elizabeth was living, personal confirmation that God was doing conception miracles. You tell anybody else and they’re going to think Mary’s made up this preposterous story about Gabriel and being the mother of the Son of God. Nobody would believe that. But Elizabeth would believe it. And the parallels surrounding these two women’s conceptions were undeniable.

So, Mary and Elizabeth come together to provide support for Mary. But I believe there is also another reason, personal confirmation for Mary. It must have been a great moment for her when she was confirmed by the personal encounter with Elizabeth, that in fact God can do conception miracles. And what Gabriel said to Elizabeth came true, therefore what Gabriel said to Mary could be trusted. A tremendous confirmation.

She went in and a typical traditional greeting began to take place which would be hours of conversation. And my, they had a lot to talk about…an awful lot to talk about.

Then she told the wonderful story about the sequence of the conversation with Gabriel and went through the whole account as it had been recorded by Luke. The parallels would have been very wonderful for them to recount. And that was important to God so that there would be so many parallels it would be crystal clear that everything Mary heard sounded just like what Zacharias and Elizabeth heard. And since that which was promised to Elizabeth had come to pass, that which was promised to Mary would also come to pass. The patterns were identical.

Just seeing Elizabeth and understanding her condition as an old woman past child-bearing capacity, married to an old man in the same predicament would be the reality of the fact that God had done a miracle. And when you throw Gabriel into the mix and the conversation is almost identical, it’s a great confirmation.

So Mary goes to see Elizabeth for support and personal confirmation, but she also receives a physical confirmation. What was it?  Elizabeth tells us in verse 44, “As soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.”

Now the movement of an unborn baby is not uncommon. Any woman who has ever been pregnant understands that as the child grows in your womb, you feel the movements stronger and stronger. In fact, this is one of the great pleasures of child bearing. It’s an exhilarating and wonderful thing because it’s the prospect of life that’s indicated by that.

But I don’t think that’s coincidental here. After all, that little fetus is a prophet… not only is he a prophet, but he’s the greatest prophet that ever lived. Not only that, that little prophet is John the Baptist and his responsibility is to prepare the way for whom? THE MESSIAH! I believe this is his first announcement. It’s a silent but physical prophecy.

After all, why would God’s Holy Spirit fill that tiny unborn baby unless God’s Holy Spirit wanted to achieve something supernatural through him?  That little fetus in the womb was filled with the Holy Spirit because it was going to do something important for the purposes of God in a supernatural way.

Now John the Baptist was really a true prophet. If he couldn’t speak, he leaped. And that’s all he could do. But he jumped with divinely inspired delight. His mother had to speak under the inspiration of God to interpret it. That was not just the normal course of things, that was a word from God through the physical realm.

God literally gave physical confirmation to Mary through the movement of that child interpreted by Elizabeth.

Mary needs to know. Now she has personal confirmation that God does conception miracles and that what Gabriel says is true, that through the testimony of Elizabeth. Now she has physical confirmation that God can work in the womb because she sees a reaction in the womb that is interpreted to her as the movement of God’s Holy Spirit upon that fetus to produce the delight that produces the movement.

You know, Mary is a wonderful example for us. She was blessed not just because she was chosen to bear the Messiah. She was blessed not just because of what God did to her but because of how she responded. She was blessed because she believed. I see Mary as someone who is a model of faith. She believed there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord. And because she believed that, she pursued that, she went to see Elizabeth and she got all that confirmation.

Mary sets an example for us though, she shows us how believers should respond…when God speaks, you listen, you believe, you obey, then you burst forth, starting in verse 46, in worship. She’s a model believer. She heard, she believed, she obeyed, she worshiped. What else can we say? And blessed is anybody, whoever she be, or he be, who does that. She is a wonderful example. She heard the truth from God, she believed it, she obeyed it and she worshiped in response.

 

 

 

 

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His Life Pointed To Christ

 

With Christmas upon us, I wanted to take a moment to consider some of the preparations for the coming of Christ. Today, I am going to focus mainly upon John the Baptist.

Here’s the background: There has been prophecy upon prophecy promising a coming savior. There is also prophecy promising someone to prepare the way:

“Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You. The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight,’” Malachi 3:1, Isaiah 40:3.

But for 400 years there has been nothing. No prophecy from the Lord. No appearances of angels. Nothing at all. (By the way, these are sometimes called The Silent Years or the Intertestamental Period.) But the Jews continue to keep up their sacrifices, observe the Sabbath, participate in Jewish celebrations and holidays, and many other mandates given by the Lord.

At this time there was a priest named Zacharias who was married to a woman called Elizabeth. (Elizabeth, by the way, is Mary, the mother of Jesus’, cousin). While we do not know their exact age, the Bible does tell us that “they were both well advanced in years,” (Luke 1:7) and they had no children.

Today, if a couple does not have children we usually draw the conclusion that they either chose not to have children or there is a problem that does not allow them to do so. But that was not the thinking in their day. Remember that they lived in a culture where blessings were tied to birthrights and family lines. To not have children was like a curse. Barrenness carried a social stigma that was often thought to be a sign of divine displeasure. To a childless couple, it was humiliating.

So here is the priest Zacharias and his barren wife Elizabeth serving the Lord but probably not well thought of. But contrary to how the rest of the world viewed them, the Lord saw them as righteous (Luke 1:6).

At the time that Zacharias was serving as a priest, there were around 18,000 priests. Placed just in front of the veil that divided the holy place from the most holy place was incense that was kept burning continuously. A priest would need to go to light the incense twice daily, once in the morning and once in the evening. There would be one priest chosen per day and no priest could ever do it twice in his lifetime. Because of the huge amounts of priests, many of them would never get this honor. But on this day Zacharias was chosen.

Zacharias no doubt regarded this moment as the highest honor and privilege of his lifetime.

As he walks in to do his priestly service, he sees an angel standing on the right side of the alter of incense (Luke 1:11). Remember that there has been no word from the Lord in 400 years. So when Zacharias sees this angel on one of the biggest days of his life, it is completely understandable that he is frightened.

The angel tells Zacharias to not be afraid, that his prayers (probably his lifelong prayers) had been heard by the Lord and his wife was going to bear a son. But this child would be a special child sent by God for a specific purpose: To prepare the way for the Messiah. In fact he tells Zacharias that his child will “be filled with the Holy Spirit even in his mother’s womb.”  (You can read the exact words of the angel of the Lord in Luke 1:13-17).

But remember, Zacharias and Elizabeth are not spring chickens. They are old! So naturally, he questions the angel asking, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years,” (Luke 1:18).

The angel does not appreciate being doubted. He reminds Zacharias that “he stands in the presence of God and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings,” (Luke 1:19). Unfortunately, because of Zacharias’s unbelief, the angel told him he would not be able to speak until all that had spoken had been fulfilled.

I actually find this to be a stiff punishment! Those of you who have children, think about it…  What is the first thing you wanted to do when you found out you were expecting? Of course you wanted to shout it from the roof top. You were having a child! And you were excited! Who wouldn’t be?

Yet, here is Zacharias. He knows after all these long years of barrenness and being looked down upon socially because of it, they are finally going to have a son. But he cannot tell anybody! Oh what a punishment!

Finally after what probably seemed like forever, Elizabeth gives birth. And on the eight day, according to God’s commands (Leviticus 12:1-3), they bring their baby to be circumcised. Everyone assumed that the baby would be named ‘Zacharias’ after his father (that is how people were named at this time), but Elizabeth let them know he should be named “John”. So they asked Zacharias. He wrote on a tablet, “His name is John” and immediately is tongue was loosened and he praised God (Luke 1:63-64).

Now how many people do you know that have lived most of their lives desperately wanting children, and when they’re at grandparent age, they bear a child? How many people do you know that were suddenly unable to speak while doing the Lord’s work and then are suddenly able to speak again after answering a question? Me neither.

So of course news of this spread quickly. Many people wondered, “What kind of child will this be” (Luke 1:66).

And indeed, they were right to wonder. A child born under such miraculous circumstances must have a special purpose. This baby boy will go on to become John the Baptist. Years later, Jesus will say, “Among those born of women none is greater than John,” (Luke 7:28). That is quite a statement considering that it was spoken by Jesus!

Still, John’s purpose in life was not just to be born under unusual circumstances, although those do testify to his purpose. His purpose and duty was to prepare the way for Christ. He did this just as the Lord had ordained. “He went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance of the remission of sins,” (Luke 3:3). You can read all about his ministry in Luke 3:1-21.

Why is this exciting? Why is this worth discussing 2000 years later?

Think about what it may have been like to live at that time… There are tons of prophecies about the Messiah. But no one has heard anything from the Lord in 400 years. Did He forget? Did He send Him and we missed Him? Did He die as an infant or small child? Did something not work according to His plan? Has He forsaken us? Where is He? Why hasn’t He sent Him? Did He lie to us?

So when they saw someone being sent to prepare the way for the King, it must have been very exciting. It alerted them to be on the lookout. To realize that Christ was coming. God had kept His promises.

Clearly put, the purpose of John’s life was to point to Christ.

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Because Loyalty Is Important

 

Lately, my family has been talking a lot about loyalty. It begins with loyalty to Christ, loyalty to our family, loyalty to one another, and loyalty to the body of Christ.

We, as the parents, must model loyalty to our children. We must set an example for them.

We start with showing loyalty to them. Every weird comment someone makes is a chance for me to show loyalty to my children. In public, many people make comments without even thinking about what they are saying or the little ears that hear the comment too. I work to respond to the comment by showing my loyalty to my children. A comment I hear a lot is, “Two boys. How exhausting!” I try to say something like, “Oh, they are so fun. I am very blessed to get to have not only one, but TWO boys!” The point is that my children hear over and over again that I am happy that they belong to me.

There is another much more sneaky way that I can show disloyalty to my children. Every gripe, moan, and grumble of discontentment about my life they may hear as disloyalty to them. When I complain about my post-pregnancy body, the lack of time alone, driving a minivan, making fun of my own social life, and in general talking bad about motherhood, they hear that I am complaining about them. They know that they are specific reasons for these problems. Don’t let your attitude be an attitude that insults them. Children belong with their parents. Let the message they get from you be one of overwhelming love, joy, excitement, and contentment.

Loyalty extends to our everyday life in how we deal with one another. We do not allow our boys to make fun of one another, tell embarrassing stories about one another, or choose friends over siblings. If my older son has a friend over, they must include the younger brother. This is an expectation in which the parents must live out first – we do not tell embarrassing stories about one another, making fun in unloving ways, remind one another of their shortcomings, or sharing stories about each other’s weaknesses. Loving one another as yourself should encompass your family, begin with them, and be demonstrated by them. This is also a wonderful way to instill loyalty in each family member.

There are a number of meaningless and silly ways that divisions are created in the family. For an example, we used to have a list of chores that each family member was responsible to complete. But we noticed that one person would see something needed to be done and not do it simply because it was not their chore. We did not feel that this created loyalty in our family, but division. It is now our rule that if you see something that needs to be done, do it. It does not matter if you made the mess or not. Everyone cleans up after everyone. There is no great injustice done if a child who did not shoot the darts out of the Nerf gun is the one cleaning them up. Because the child who did play with the Nerf gun will be cleaning your dirty dishes tonight or folding your clean clothes tomorrow morning.

Does this seem strange? Why should someone clean up a mess that they did not make? We desire our children to have a much larger view of themselves, one that includes the people around them. As they grow into adults, we want them to serve the church and community without calculating what they have done for whom. We want them to serve freely, openly, joyfully, and lovingly. We want them to serve without even thinking about it. And we might as well start here at home.

But the heart of what I want to say does not have to do with any parenting style or choices at all. It has to do with Christ. When I put Him first and keep my eyes focused on the cross, failure is completely avoidable. We will not fail our children, our spouse, church body, or community if we are obedient to Christ. Loyalty to anything or anyone begins with loyalty to Him. If I am loyal to Christ, I will forgive easily; remember how He has forgiven me even though I don’t deserve it. If I am loyal to Christ, I cannot be without joy. If I am loyal to Christ, I will gladly serve my church, community, and family. If I am loyalty to Christ, I will look for opportunities to encourage my brothers and sisters, especially when I notice they are struggling.

The truth is that my children do not really belong to my husband and me, they belong to Christ. He is just allowing us to raise them for Him. It is our job as parents to help them grow consistently and to never let them forget Who they really belong to. We want them to be loyal to Christ throughout their whole life. And only by God’s grace will we show them how this is done.

 

 

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Only Because He Loves Me

 

Here in America, tomorrow is a special day, Thanksgiving. It is a day we set aside to remember our country’s feeble beginnings. It is a day our forefathers celebrated with the American Indians.

It is also a day we set aside to reflect on our lives and remember how blessed we are. How much we have to be thankful for.

And that is a good thing.

I could go on and on about all that I am thankful for: My parents, sister and brothers. My husband and sons. My home, the bounty of possessions He has provided to us, and much food to fill our stomachs with. He has provided a free country for us to live in and a quiet, rural county to raise our family.

But none of that is what I am the most Thankful for.

I was recently reminded of a story in 2 Kings 6:24-7:20.

This is what is going on… Samaria was completely besieged by Syria. AND there was a great famine in Samaria. Nothing went in and nothing came out. It got so bad that women were eating their own babies just for survival. That is incomprehensible to me!

Well, there were four lepers sitting at the entrance gate to Samaria.  They knew if they were to stay there they would die. They knew if they were to enter the city they would die also due to the famine. After some discussion they decided to go to the Syrian camp. The Syrians may kill them, but they may have pity on them and spare their lives.

So up they went to the Syrian camp.

But when they got there, they found that the Syrians had fled their camp, abandoning all their provisions. They left their tents, horses, donkeys, food, drink, silver, gold, and clothing. They fled their camp and left everything the way it was. They did not take anything with them.

Now these four lepers entered a tent and ate, drank, and carried off the silver, gold, and clothing to hide them. Then they entered another tent and did the same. But finally they took a look around. This had been a camp of a whole army. These were tents of wealthy and powerful men. These goods were needed by their people. By people inside the gates of Samaria.

These lepers were so thankful for what the Lord had blessed them with, they could not hold it in. They had to let inhabitants of Samaria know. They had to share what the Lord had blessed them with.

Do you catch it?

They were blessed so richly that they had to tell others. They had to share what the Lord had given to them.

Like these lepers, that is what I am the most thankful for too.

I have been blessed richly by the Lord also.

While I have not found an abandoned camp full of material goods like they did, He has given me something much greater: He calls me His child. And that is much greater because that is eternal and will not pass away.

That’s it. And that’s enough.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my family and am thankful for them. But I only have my family because He has given them to me.

I am not owed anything. I deserved nothing except His wrath and damnation.

The only thing I have contributed to my salvation is my sin. He did not choose to love me because I am so smart, lovable, or have such a great personality. He did not choose me because He thought I would be good for the team.

He just chose to love me. And that’s enough.

Why? I have no idea.

But because He does, it causes me to have more adoration for Him. It causes me to love and cherish Him in a whole different way. It causes me to desire to serve and honor Him above all else.

So as tomorrow approaches, I am celebrating Him and His love.

I cannot hide His riches. I cannot hide His blessings.

They are too great and powerful!

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Less Is More

 

This past weekend I put up all my summer clothes and got out all my winter clothes. With snow falling on the ground, I just couldn’t put it off any longer.

Now, if you don’t know me personally, I should tell you that I like clothes. I REALLY like clothes. And I have a lot of them.

So when I exchange summer clothes for winter clothes it is a big project. Nearly every single piece of clothing I own has to either be put up or taken out. And it takes FOREVER!

But as I began packing up my summer clothes I noticed that a good deal of them I had not even worn this past spring, summer, or fall.

I had to ask myself why do I keep them when I don’t wear them?

Because I had forgotten I had them.

Because it would look cute with the “right thing”. I just don’t have the “right thing” to wear with it.

Because it is too short or cuts too low.

Because if I lost a few pounds I would look cute in it.

Because I might need it sometime.

Because someone complimented me when I wore it once.

Because it was a good deal when I purchased it.

Because it was a gift and I might hurt someone’s feelings if I got rid of it.

Because I have an emotional tie to it.

Yet, I stand there and look at the sheer number of articles I own and it’s kind of embarrassing. I know there are people in this world who desperately need a change of clothes. And here I am with mountains of them around me.

I’m uneasy with that.

I decide to go through my entire closet, each drawer that I own, and all storage containers that hold my winter attire and inspect all my clothing. Every single piece. If I’m not going to wear it, I’m going to give it to someone who will.

But looking at all the clothing I owned, this task seemed daunting. To help me with this I made up some rules. If a piece of clothing broke any rule it would be donated.

Here is my list:

  1. I must have worn it in the past year.
  2. It must fit well.
  3. I must feel comfortable wearing it.
  4. I must like it.
  5. It cannot be red, yellow, or orange (those colors look terrible on me).
  6. It must not have any stains, rips, or tears.
  7. It must be appropriate for my age.

As I began going through things I considered each item. Really, there were many very nice things that I chose not to keep. Because I didn’t wear them.

And I want to be a good steward of the things that God has blessed me with. So if there is something that I’m not using or wearing, I want to give it to someone who will use it and trust that if I ever need it again, God will provide it.

Because someone else may need it, use it, and be blessed by it.

And all the while I have been over here holding onto it. Hoarding it. Not sharing it. This is not loving or kind. It is the complete opposite of Christ’s example.

I still had almost every shirt that I wore in my high school senior pictures. I had a dress that my sister gave me my first semester of college. And even a pair of overalls that I’d had since… Well, I don’t even know. Junior high, maybe? But I no longer wore them. It’s time for someone else to enjoy them and be blessed by them.

At the end of the day I did break rule #5 twice. I chose to keep a red dress and a red sweater because they look so nice at Christmas (and my husband likes them too). I also broke #2 once. I chose to keep a dress that I wore to my college graduation and wedding rehearsal.

You want to know what the strange thing is?

Before I would look at my closet that was bursting at the seams and think, “I have nothing to wear.” Now I look at my fairly empty closet and think, “Wow, I have so many choices!”

Also, it is much easier to manage. I no longer have over stuffed drawers that barely close. I feel much more organized. Getting rid of things that I don’t need or use is completely liberating.

Sometimes less really is more!

 

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