Monday, December 31, 2007
As we approach the beginning of a new year, we think about making New Year's resolutions. Of course, we all know where those end up. This year I challenge you not to make a New Year's resolution, but to make a radical commitment...a commitment like you've never made before. It could....no...it WILL change your life!
A Call to Radical Commitment
By Rick Warren
Today I am stepping across the line. I'm tired of waffling, and I'm finished with wavering. I've made my choice; the verdict is in; and my decision is irrevocable. I'm going God's way. There's no turning back now!
I will live the rest of my life serving God's purposes with God's people on God's planet for God's glory. I will use my life to celebrate his presence, cultivate his character, participate in his family, demonstrate his love, and communicate his Word.
Since my past has been forgiven, and I have a purpose for living and a home awaiting in heaven, I refuse to waste any more time or energy on shallow living, petty thinking, trivial talking, thoughtless doing, useless regretting, hurtful resenting, or faithless worrying. Instead I will magnify God, grow to maturity, serve in ministry, and fulfill my mission in the membership of his family.
Because this life is preparation for the next, I will value worship over wealth, "we" over "me", character over comfort, service over status, and people over possessions, position, and pleasures. I know what matters most, and I'll give it all I've got. I'll do the best I can with what I have for Jesus Christ today.
I won't be captivated by culture, manipulated by critics, motivated by praise, frustrated by problems, debilitated by temptation, or intimidated by the devil. I'll keep running my race with my eyes on the goal, not the sidelines or those running by me.
When times get tough, and I get tired, I won't back up, back off, back down, back out, or backslide. I'll just keep moving forward by God's grace. I'm Spirit-led, purpose-driven and mission-focused, so I cannot be bought, I will not be compromised, and I shall not quit until I finish the race.
I'm a trophy of God's amazing grace, so I will be gracious to everyone, grateful for everyday, and generous with everything that God entrusts to me.
To my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I say: However, whenever, wherever, and whatever you ask me to do, my answer in advance is yes! Wherever you lead and whatever the cost, I'm ready. Anytime. Anywhere. Anyway.
Whatever it takes Lord; whatever it takes!
I want to be used by you in such a way, that on that final day I'll hear you say, "Well done, thou good and faithful one. Come on in, and let the eternal party begin!"
What does this mean?
Today, I affirm this commitment to God and submit to his plans and purposes for my life, no matter what it takes.
Friday, December 28, 2007
As I sat down with my Bible this morning, I sadly realized how little time I had spent in the Word these past several weeks. Not that I hadn't read any, but it had been sparse and not very meaty. Oh I had read a daily devotional or two almost every day. I have several online ones that I subscribe to and I enjoy them very much. In fact, God has used them many, many times to speak to my heart and I am grateful to those who write them. But as good as they are, they are no substitute for reading God's Word. They are in essence fast food.
It's time to get back into the Word on a daily basis, feasting on the meat of His Word so that He can fill me with knowledge of His will and His way....a healthy diet that will build me up and make me strong and able to fight the good fight.
How about you? Have you been slack in your time in the Word, too, throughout the busy holidays? If so, why not commit today to get back on track and join me in feasting on the Holy Word of God? You will be healthier in mind and body and spirit!!
Thursday, December 27, 2007
For some like me, you fought the crowds yesterday to return things that didn't fit and sought out those great after Christmas bargains. Others had to return to work. Still others are visiting with family and friends that they only get to see once a year. Others were on the road travelling to visit family or returning from those visits. I had lunch with a friend I only get to see from time to time.
In a few days we will celebrate the new year....2008....with all its possibilities and mysteries of what it will bring. How will 2008 be different? Will it be better or worse? Will you make more money or will you go further into debt? Will you pursue a new love relationship or are you thinking of ending the one you are in? Will you continue in the job you have or look for a new one? Do you hope everything will continue much as it is or are you looking for a change....financially, job-wise, relationship-wise, spiritually or otherwise?
If you are tired of the same old, same old, I urge you to read the following by Jon Walker who writes the Purpose Driven Life daily devotional. It may just spur you to think differently about the new year:
Making A Difference In 2008by Jon Walker
"The master was full of praise. 'Well done, my good and faithful servant.' "(Matthew 25:21 NLT)
~~~ ~~~ ~~~
God is equipping you to make a difference in his world. Rick Warren teaches that the donation of your life matters more than the duration of your life.
Do you really want your life to be significant in 2008? Then begin investing your time and money into showing people how they can make peace with God. That's an investment that will make a difference, not for 10 years, or 50 years, or even 1,000 years; it will make a difference for eternity.
Quite honestly, there is nothing more significant you can do with your life. There is no more significant use of your time or resources than to help other human beings learn about Jesus. If you help just one person get into heaven, your life will have been eternally significant.
Charlene, a nurse in the Saddleback Church congregation, says God taught her to give her life to something bigger than just living for herself. "I'm a nurse, and when I heard about the tsunami that struck Indonesia [several years ago], I felt God calling me to help," she says. "I was nervous because the area we were going to serve in is devoutly Muslim. I wasn't sure how the people would react to us being Christians. "God gave me so much love for all the people, and we felt the Spirit moving," says Charlene. "I know seeds were planted, and I believe that someday many of those people will come to know Christ. God showed me that he would protect and take care of us. It was a wonderful experience. Itmakes me want to give my life to something bigger than just living for myself."
What does this mean?
Ask God about the donation of your life. Ask God what he wants your donation to be in the years you have left.
Believe God wants to use you.“ You can change the world, one person at a time."
Question to consider:“ What do you need to change in your life so you can begin living for godly significance?"
© 2007 Jon Walker. All rights reserved.
Jon Walker is writer/pastor for the Web site www.GraceCreates.com. This devotional is copyrighted (c) 2007 by Jon Walker.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
As you feast around the table, I pray that you will remember that JESUS is the BREAD of life….
As you look into the eyes of your children and grandchildren, I pray you will be reminded that JESUS is LOVE….
As you hear the sound of Christmas bells, I pray you will remember that one day the trumpet will sound and JESUS will return for us…
As you open the gifts from loved ones, I pray you will remember that JESUS was the ultimate CHRISTMAS gift…Heaven’s Gift to all mankind…the gift of LIFE…
And finally, I pray that for a moment today you will look at your manger scene and be reminded that Jesus is no longer in the manger!!!!!! He went to Calvary for you and for me…and He is seated at the right hand of the Father and one day He will come again!!!!!!! Hallelujah!!!!!!!!
Monday, December 24, 2007
"And when they [the shepherds] had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things which they had seen and heard as it was told unto them." Luke 2: 17-20
The shepherds could not keep silent. They had seen JESUS. They had worshipped Him. They could not keep it to themselves! They told everyone they saw the glorious good news. They knew it was just as the angels had said. There were no more questions for the shepherds. But for those they met….well, that was a different story. Who would believe a group of dirty, low-life shepherds talking about angels and a baby in a feeding trough who was supposed to be the Messiah?!!! I’m sure many of those whom the shepherds told dismissed them with disdain. Maybe a few wondered enough to go and look for themselves. But that didn’t stop the enthusiasm of the shepherds. It was a night they would never forget. They had seen JESUS and they would NEVER be the same again!!!!! They could go back to their flock of sheep and back to their business of tending their sheep, but forever they would remember this night.
It was a night Mary would never forget either. There was much she still did not understand. What would life be like for her son….God’s Son? How awed she must have been to see the shepherds come and bow at the manger and worship her child A million thoughts had to be racing through her young mind. But this night would be permanently etched on her mother’s memory. No matter what happened in the future…she would remember this night. She would remember giving birth. She would remember the first time she held him and looked into his eyes and felt his soft skin next to hers. She would remember nursing him and cuddling him. She would remember the few short hours she got to have him all to herself. And she would remember those who came to worship Him.
Each time Mary would call his name….JESUS….she would be reminded of WHO He was…..Emmanuel…God with us. Her child…this tiny baby was God!!!!! Yes, God’s Son…Heaven’s greatest Gift was Mary’s little lamb. He came wrapped in sweet baby flesh tied up in the ribbons of deity…for He was fully man and fully God. He changed Mary and Joseph’s lives….He changed the shepherds lives….and He came to change the lives of the world…yours and mine. He came that we might have LIFE!
You see we all come into this world just as Baby Jesus did…a tiny, helpless baby. But unlike the sinless Son of God, we came into this world DEAD in our sin. We were alive physically, but DEAD spiritually, separated from God by our sin nature…fallen heirs of fallen Adam. God sent JESUS to pay our sin debt so He could give back to us what Adam lost…the life of God. The one thing dead people need is LIFE! You can fix them up, clean them up and dress them up…but they are still DEAD! Jesus came to give that LIFE back to us by paying a debt we did not owe because we owed a debt we could not pay. He paid the price for us on the cross and offers to each of us who will receive it the gift of LIFE. It is free. You cannot earn it. You cannot buy it. You cannot steal it. All you can do is receive what He offers…the gift of eternal life which is found in His Son…Jesus Christ. He longs for a relationship with you. He is not interested in religion. He is not interested in denominations. He is interested in a RELATIONSHIP with you! As we said yesterday, if you have never given your heart to Jesus, won’t you consider doing that today? If you have already done that, maybe you have found yourself caught up in all the hustle and bustle of living life and have put Jesus on the back burner. I have good news for you. You may have moved but He hasn’t!! He’s just waiting for you to turn back to Him. He’s waiting with open arms and longs for you to re-establish your relationship with Him. I pray you will run to Him today. He loves you so much!!!!!!!! Don’t miss CHRISTmas……it’s never too late!
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Maybe that is how we should approach Him this Christmas. Maybe we should come to him empty handed and just worship. We try too often, I’ m afraid, to impress Him with our "good works", our false humility and our fancy prayers. But all Jesus wants from us is to give Him ourselves. He wants us to hold nothing back from Him, to yield ourselves wholly and completely to Him.
I remember some years ago attending a conference at a local church. The evening had concluded with a speaker…a missionary who had been imprisoned for her faith. It was very moving and I couldn’t help but wonder as I listened to her would my faith be as strong as hers were I placed in the same position she had been. Then came the finale of the program. A huge throne was revealed on stage…a regal throne complete in its splendor. A small lamb rested in the seat of the throne and as the music "Behold the Lamb" played, dozens of "angels" came down the aisle and laid crowns at the feet of the throne. I don’t believe I have ever been more moved as I saw before me a scene that would one day play out in actuality in Heaven, as "every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!" .
The only gift that we can bring to the Savior is ourselves. He wants us to yield ourselves to Him. He does not want part of us, He wants all of us. And when we come to worship Him, we need to bow, fully recognizing that we have nothing to bring. It’s not about us----it’s about Him. It’s not about what we can DO for Him….it’s about what He’s already DONE!!!! If you have never given your heart to Jesus…I pray you will do that today. He was the ultimate CHRISTMAS gift, but the gift that you can give Him is your heart. If you have never done that and would like to know more about how you can, please call 1-888-NEEDHIM. Someone is available 24 hours a day to share with you how you can have the best Christmas ever! If you have already given Him your heart, I pray you will just bow before Him today and worship Him and thank God for sending you such a GIFT!
Saturday, December 22, 2007
But, before the shepherds had time to even catch their breath and take in what the Angel of the Lord had said to them, the sky was suddenly ablaze with a "multitude of the Heavenly Host, praising God and saying "Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, good will toward men." Can you just imagine that sight?!! The Heavenly Host all around you? If you have ever placed your faith in this Son proclaimed by the Angels, one day YOU will experience just that!! For in Heaven the angels are always around the throne of God saying "Thou art worthy O Lord to receive glory and honor and power; for thou hast created all things and for your pleasure they are created." (Rev. 4: 11). In Heaven there will be ten thousand times ten thousand angels ! "And I beheld and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and…..the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing!" (Rev., 5: 11, 12)
WOW!!!!!! Can you even conceive of that in your human finite mind? I don’t think I can. But that night in Bethlehem, the shepherds got a "sneak peak"! They were the first to give praise to the Lord! Why not join them today and stop for a few moments and just praise the Lord. Don’t give Him your wish list. Don’t ask for anything. Don’t make intercession for others. Just for a few moments, get on your knees if possible and if not, then bow in your heart and worship Him as the angels do day and night. One day we will join them around the throne. It won’t hurt us to practice a little now. HE ALONE IS WORTHY!!!!!!!!!!!
"And it came to pass as the angels were gone away from them into Heaven, the shepherds said one to another ‘Let us go now even to Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the baby, lying in a manger," Luke 2: 15, 16
The shepherds wasted no time in responding to the angels’ message. Leaving your post was not an option for a shepherd. Someone had to watch the sheep at all times. But that night, they KNEW they had to go. I think they knew that angels were watching over those sheep and I have a feeling when they returned, that the sheep were just as they had left them. At any rate, NOT going was not an option. Angels from Heaven had come to give them---- SHEPHERDS of all people----- the good news and they were NOT going to miss this! The Savior had been born! The Messiah they had been waiting for was in Bethlehem and they had to find him.
So off to Bethlehem they went. The angels had given them all the clues they needed. Although Bethlehem was filled with people that night, there was only ONE baby that was wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger! That baby was JESUS.
Mary’s few quiet moments alone with her precious baby were over. As they rested in the stable with the animals, baby Jesus had been carefully placed in the manger of hay so that he, too, could sleep. Mary and Joseph had to be exhausted. They had made the long journey, Mary had gone through labor and given birth and now all was quiet. Then, without warning, some shepherds came out of nowhere, peeking inside the stable. When they saw the baby, wrapped in the swaddling clothes and lying in the manger, they knew they had found baby JESUS. Can’t you hear them?
"Look! There in the manger….it’s a baby and he’s wrapped in swaddling clothes! It’s Him…..It’s the Messiah!" they must have proclaimed. Mary and Joseph’s heads must have turned to see who was approaching them and partly in awe and partly in fearful protection, I’m sure they must have come to attention very quickly at the sight of this rag tag bunch of smelly shepherds.
As they drew near to the manger, they bowed very low and began to worship Him. How humbled Mary and Joseph had to be. The reality of the fact that their baby was the Son of God must have really began to sink in at that point. Up until then, it may have seemed like any other pregnancy and any other delivery……but at that moment when the shepherds came and found Him, when they called Him their Messiah, when they told Mary and Joseph about the angels and the angel’s message…..reality really began to set in. This was no ordinary baby. Truly this was the Son of God!!
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Once more, let’s go to that hillside outside of Bethlehem. Jesus is in the manger in the stable with Mary and Joseph, just hours old. The shepherds are quietly tending their sheep. It is late. The sky is dark except for the brilliance of the stars against the black velvet sky. It was an ordinary night.
Then….suddenly…..there was a brilliance that lit up the night! Luke says it was "the glory of the Lord". The "glory of the Lord" was the Shechinah Glory….the visible manifestation of the invisible God! It was the same Shechinah Glory that had led the children of Israel out of Egypt in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. It was the same Shechinah Glory that Moses had witnessed on Sinai when he went for the tablets of stone. "The sight of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain in the eyes of the children of Israel" Ex. 24: 17.
Lowly Jewish shepherds…the lowest of the low…….were visited by the Shechinah Glory!! The Lord had a message to reveal and they would be the first to hear. Can you imagine their faces? What was going through their minds? We know it was fear for the angel of the Lord said "Fear not". Maybe they thought they had accidentally let a blemished lamb get by. Maybe they thought since they were of such low report, that God was going to annihilate them. In a moment like that, witnessing such a sight, I’m sure all kinds of things were running through their minds. But nothing…absolutely nothing…could have prepared them for the announcement that was to be made to them!
"Fear not", the angel said "for I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you…you shall find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." Luke 2: 10-12. Don’t be afraid. Isn’t that just like God? He wanted to put them at ease and let them know that He was bringing them good news….no…not just GOOD news…but news of GREAT JOY!! And notice…who that news was for………
Just the Jews? No.
Just the Shepherds? No.
Just the rabbis? No
Just the wealthy? No
Just the Gentiles? No
Just those of Bethlehem? No
No…it was good news of GREAT JOY for ALL people!!!!!!!!! That includes YOU and ME!! The angel of the Lord brought a message on that beautiful starry night to a group of lowly Jewish shepherds, BUT it was news for YOU and ME!!!!!! Have you heard the Good News? (If you would like to talk to someone about this GOOD NEWS, please call 1-888-NEEDHIM. )
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Was it just a coincidence that Jesus was born in Bethlehem? Of course not. Watch as God’s perfect plan unfolds. A census is declared requiring individuals to travel to their native city. Joseph was of the lineage of David, so it required them to go to Bethlehem, the city of David. And the timing was just when Mary was due to deliver. This was not an accident or a coincidence. No, rather it was God’s perfect timing in order to fulfill prophecy. But why Bethlehem? What was so significant about Bethlehem that God would choose it for the birthplace of His Son?
Bethlehem was the place where the sacrificial lambs for Passover were raised. Migdal Eder…the Tower of the Flock…was only a short distance from Bethlehem. This was no ordinary place for grazing sheep. Rather this was where the sheep were raised that would be used for the sacrifices for the Passover. The shepherds were specially trained to know exactly what type of sheep was required….to distinguish any type of imperfection or blemish that would disqualify the sheep from being a perfect sacrifice. After carefully watching and guarding their flock, the experienced shepherds would then separate the perfect lambs and drive them into Jerusalem where they would be sold for sacrifices.
How fitting that the town that was home to the Passover lambs would also be the birthplace of the Lamb of God! Mary’s little Lamb came into this world to be our sacrifice….the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
"And there were in the same country, shepherds, keeping watch over their flock by night….." Luke 2: 8
It was an ordinary night, business as usual. The shepherds doing their job…watching over the flock. Shepherds must be ever vigilant. Sheep are some of the dumbest animals there are. They will eat in the same place, not knowing to move on even after the grass is gone. If their fleece gets wet it becomes heavy and can cause them to lose their balance and fall over. If that happens, they are like a beetle, they can’t right themselves. If someone does not come to their aid, they will die. They must also have someone to lead them to fresh water. Sheep will not drink from a rushing stream…it must be still water. Remember???? "He [my shepherd} makes me to lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters" Psalm 23: 2
Sheep also are prime targets for predators…wolves, mountain lions, and other wild animals. They are followers and if one sheep takes off over a cliff, the rest will follow. That is why shepherds must keep a constant watch on their flock….day and night.
Shepherds were probably the lowest of the low on the social ladder. Because they remained in the fields with their sheep, there was not much time for socializing with the townspeople. Besides they were smelly from all that time with the sheep and not really welcome. It was not a prestigious job. Yet it was honest work. And these shepherds were special because they prepared the flock for Passover.
Scripture refers to Jesus as the Good Shepherd…our Good Shepherd. He is ever vigilant…watching over us, providing for our needs, guarding us against the enemy. We often go in the wrong direction, and he must draw us back. But at all times "The Lord is my shepherd…I shall not want…..He leads me in the path of righteousness for His name sake…Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for [He] is with me." Psalm 23: 3,4
How fitting then that the first ones to be told of Jesus’ birth would be the shepherds. The birth of the King was not announced to the hierarchy of the day, nor was it announced to the townspeople who were scurrying around in preparation for Passover. It was not announced to the rabbis in the synagogue or to those in other positions of authority. It was not announced to Mary and Joseph’s family. It was not announced to the Innkeeper who had no room. No, on that starry night, on the quiet hillside, the announcement of the Savior of the World was announced to some smelly shepherds just doing their job.
God comes to each of us right where we are. He is not impressed by power, prestige or position. He doesn’t care about how much we have in our bank account, what kind of car we drive or if we even have one. He does not care if we reside in a mansion or under the bridge. He is not impressed by our stock portfolio or the number of degrees we possess. He is not swayed by the title on the door or the number of people who work for us. He doesn’t care if we are the CEO or the garbage collector. He does not care if we are one of the "beautiful people" or if we are marred and scarred by life. He does not care if we are white or black, red, yellow or purple. God is no respecter of persons. He came to the shepherds right where they were. And He will meet you today…in fact, He LONGS to meet you today…right where YOU are!!!!!!!
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Bonita Lillie, Proverbs 31 Ministry
Luke 2:6-7, "While she was there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in clothes and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (NIV)
No room in the inn? As a former maternity nurse, I can’t imagine such a thing. No matter how full the hospital might be, we could always find one more bed for a woman giving birth. Yet, when our Savior was about to appear the world hung out a "no vacancy" sign, refusing to welcome Him. I could easily condemn those folks, except for the fact that I did the exact same thing one year.
It was one of those years, the kind loaded with heartache and trials, the kind we would rather forget. After a long arduous year, I found myself completely lacking in Christmas spirit. I didn’t want to decorate or get a tree; my daughter did those things. I wouldn’t bake cookies or sing carols. Even buying gifts didn’t arouse the usual thrill. I was numb. I really just wanted Christmas to come and go and be done with it.
One morning as I sat gazing at the Christmas tree I wondered why I felt this way. Gently, the Lord spoke to my heart, "You have no room in your heart for me." I softly cried as one by one, the Lord revealed the ugly things filling up the chambers of my heart, keeping Christ at bay:
Busyness - Can’t we all relate to this one? Life can become so busy and crowded. That year I was a full time wife, full time mom, full time homemaker, full time homeschool teacher, part time nurse, part time writing instructor, and so much more. All of these things crowded in, crowding Jesus out. My life became one big "to do" list and I lived my list, by not my life.
Anger, bitterness, and disappointment - We experienced the kiss of Judas that year, as a dear friend betrayed us, resulting in a major financial setback. My trust in fellow Christians was shattered. Unfortunately, I closed the door to the trusting part of my heart, padlocked it, and refused to let anyone in, not even Jesus.
Pain and sorrow - Matthew 16:24 says: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." I learned what that meant that year as one by one I nailed my dreams to a cross and watched them die. Then I shut the door to the morgue and said, "No new dreams, Jesus."
Doubt and unbelief - At some point, faith and hope packed up and left, leaving behind two unwelcome twins, doubt and unbelief. They are unpleasant guests as they constantly scream, "Will things ever get better?"
Selfishness and self-pity - I didn’t realize how much room I occupied in my heart until I had to exchange my will for they will. Ouch! Suddenly, life became all about preserving me, forget opening my heart to others.
That Christmas I served some eviction notices to those things in my heart that kept me from God. Now I want the Lord to fill not only a room of my heart, but the whole thing, every nook, cranny, and crevice.
How about you? Is there room in your inn for Jesus? He doesn’t require fancy accommodations. He’s just looking for the welcome mat. Let every heart prepare Him room!
Prayer for Today:
Father, forgive me for becoming so entangled with the world that I miss out on You. Help me, Lord, to squarely face and submit to You the problems that keep me from enjoying Your wonderful presence. Fill my heart with Your life giving spirit. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
It’s time for some housekeeping! Ask the Lord to reveal those things that clutter your heart and mind. Make a list of everything He reveals to you then pray about each thing on the list releasing it to God and letting it go. Give Jesus your whole heart this Christmas. You’ll be glad you did!
PROVERBS 31 MINISTRIES
616-G Matthews-Mint Hill Road
Matthews, NC 28105
Office: (704) 849-2270
Monday, December 17, 2007
We don’t often give much thought to the "swaddling clothes" mentioned in this verse. Many translations refer to it as "soft cloth". Some assume that was just the clothes used for babies in those days. Funny how we just read over things in scripture, thinking something as simple as swaddling clothes to be insignificant. But NOTHING in the Word is insignificant!
Swaddling is a term used to wrap an infant tightly. Some say that it was first used to help keep an infant’s limbs to grow straight. Others said it was just to keep them warm. It has been used extensively in oriental cultures during our lifetime, and today has become very common even here in the USA. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that since it recommended babies sleep on their back, SIDS deaths have decreased 50%. The Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis reports that swaddling helps to keep babies from turning onto their stomachs and helps them to sleep more soundly. Swaddling is practiced almost universally now in newborn nurseries across the country.
Swaddling during the days of Jesus’ birth was done by tightly wrapping long pieces of cloth approximately 4-5 inches wide and 15-20 feet long from their shoulders to their feet. In the Middle East, travel was hard. People often encountered hardships and trials along the way. In the event of a death, it was too difficult and too hot and humid to carry a corpse along with you. So travelers commonly went prepared by tying a long, gauzelike cloth around and around their waist. That way if anyone died on the journey, the body could be prepared and buried along the way. This cloth was called "swaddling cloth".
Maybe Mary and Joseph had thought they would find a room at the inn and there would be a soft bed for Mary and her baby. Maybe they hoped that they would get there and back before he was born. At any rate, it is possible that the swaddling clothes referred to in Luke 2 were actually the "in case of death swaddling clothes’, they had carried with them on the journey.
It is also a possibility that the "stable" they stayed in was actually a cave or a tomb that had not yet been used. If so, there may have been swaddling cloth there to use to prepare the body of the one who would be lain there. In any event, Jesus was most likely "wrapped in swaddling clothes" that were also used for burial. Coincidence? I don’t think so. I think it is symbolic of the fact that Jesus was born to die.
BORN TO DIE
Born in a stable,
Died on a cross
Brought forth in poverty
Destined for the Throne
With tears of joy Mary gave birth
In grief she watched her Son die
He lived as a carpenter
Died as a criminal
Resurrected as King!
At his birth the angels sang
At his death, the earth shook
A star shone to lead men to Him
Darkness fell when He took all of our sin
His earthly father gave him nails to make a living
His Heavenly Father gave him nails to give us life
With mud he touched blind eyes and gave them sight
With His blood he touched our hearts and gave us life
When he left this earth only a few were watching
But when he returns, all eyes will behold
In the cradle, he became as we are … flesh
On the cross, he became sin
On my knees, he became my Savior
When he returns, he will come as King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
Saturday, December 15, 2007
In that moment that Joseph tenderly laid this baby upon Mary’s breast, she felt the emotions felt by every woman who has ever given birth. In that moment, she was like any other mother. She felt such a wave of emotion and joy that words could not express it. But more…she felt indescribable LOVE! Love like she had never experienced before. The child she had nurtured and protected, dreamed and wondered about in her womb, was now in her arms. As she looked into those tiny eyes for the first time, felt his baby skin next to hers and grasped those tiny fingers, she was totally smitten! She would never be the same. She knew in that moment, that she would gladly lay down her life for this baby. Yet she had no idea that one day, HE would lay down HIS life for her.
For just a little while, she would hold him close, rock him and sing lullabies to him. Just for a little while….For as much as she loved him, he was not hers. He had not come to be her son….He had come to be her Savior, and, the Savior of the world. But tonight, there in that stable, with Joseph close by and the animals quietly sleeping, tonight, he was hers.
She had been given a gift…a priceless gift! As she held him to her breast, she had to wonder what the future would hold. How gracious of God not to reveal that to her. How loving of Him to allow her those few moments alone with him before she had to share him with the world. Those moments were also a gift, a gift that she would treasure and carry in her heart the rest of her life.
What a loving, compassionate Father we have!!!!! I am continuously overwhelmed by His mercy and grace to us. I am amazed at how he does little things for us, just because He loves us! God delights to bless us! I think we miss that sometimes. Just as we delight in giving to our children, God delights to give to us blessings for the taking. And He does, again and again, each day. Do we recognize them? Do we thank Him for them? A lot of those blessings come in moments just like those Mary spent with Jesus on that first night. Those blessings cannot be measured in dollars and cents. They are measured by the heart.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
2000 years ago God sent us a gift, the most awesome gift we will ever receive! It came in a very unusual package. It came in the form of a baby. Now all babies are gifts. There may be unplanned pregnancies, but there are no unplanned births! God has a plan for each and every baby that comes. But this baby would change the world!
All of Heaven must have been on tiptoe that night as Mary and Joseph made their way into Bethlehem. It had been a long journey….almost 90 miles from their home. Mary was "great with child". I cannot imagine what a difficult trip that had to be for her, riding that long distance, 9 months pregnant and riding on a donkey! Then to arrive in town and find there was no place to stay. Oh how Joseph’s heart must have ached because he could not provide a luxurious place for his bride. As they went from place to place, and heard the same words "No Room", I can just hear him saying "Mary, I’m so sorry, I don’t know where else to go." Yet, I just have a sense that Mary was not upset. I believe she had a quiet knowing, born of the Spirit, that everything was going to be all right. This was God’s Son she was carrying. HE was in control, not them.
Recently I heard a conference speaker talk about the Innkeeper. She made a very interesting statement. Although he had no rooms in his inn, he DID have a bed he COULD have given them. He could have given them HIS bed! But he missed it! He missed giving a room and a bed to the very mother of Jesus! He was too busy tending to his job, to the crowds that were pressing in to stop and give up his bed for a woman in need. Oh that we would not be guilty like the innkeeper of missing an opportunity to be a blessing to someone in need that God has sent across our path!
To give the Innkeeper some credit, he did offer them the stable and they gratefully took it. Not what they had expected would be their location for the birth of this very special baby, I’m sure! Mary knew they were not alone. And some time during that night, God brought into the world the Gift He had prepared for all mankind, packaged in the form of a helpless baby. Pure innocence, pure love, pure hope all wrapped up in soft baby skin! The birth of any baby is such a miracle..such a wondrous event! And the feelings a mother has at that moment are indescribable as she holds that miracle for the very first time. As she cradled him close, I imagine her eyes filled with tears of wonder and joy and in her heart she was singing with the angels "Glory to God in the Highest!" In the words of the old hymn "Heaven came down and glory filled my soul"………
God’s plan was unfolding with the birth of Jesus. A plan he began in the garden of Eden. When sin entered the world, a great gulf was fixed between God and man. God knew that He had to make a way for sin to be atoned for. So He sent JESUS ! For years the Jews had watched and waited for their Messiah, the One who would save them from their sin. Now he had arrived. Not like anyone had expected. He did not come with regal robes and an army. He came in the form of humanity so that we would know that we have a Savior who truly understands what it is like to be a human. He was totally man and yet totally God! Yes, He was a most unusual gift in a most unusual package! And God has extended that "gift" to each of us.
I pray this CHRISTmas that you will embrace this "gift" for all that it is and for all that it can be in your life!
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
A few years ago that happened to our daughter on her way home from college. Her path crossed with a young man and her life was forever changed. I have often thought, what would have happened that day if she had left college for home just 5 minutes earlier or later? What would have happened if he had not forgotten an important piece of paper and had to return home to get it? But, you see, God had a plan that neither of them was privy to…at least not the details. But in His perfect time, He orchestrated their meeting and now they are husband and wife, and parents to a precious gift, their daughter.
For Mary and Joseph, they were going about life in their village, doing all the ordinary everyday things of life. They had met, become betrothed and were anticipating their final stage of the marriage process in the near future. We mentioned yesterday that they had to have hearts perfect toward God, hearts willing and open and obedient to His leading. What if they had not? What if somewhere along the way they had gotten off track, got caught up in the world or in themselves? I believe if that had happened, that God would have chosen someone else and they would have missed being a part of a miracle…a part of history…. A part of the greatest event ever…a part of changing things for all eternity!!
What have you missed because you were off track? What blessing did God want to give you, but you were too busy with your self…your plans….your agenda? What has God wanted to do THROUGH you but you were not available? Can you imagine if you missed being the mother of Jesus!! It certainly was not an easy job and her heart would be broken again and again as she watched her Son grow up, endure ridicule and finally torture and crucifixion. But I have no doubt in my mind, that she would not have traded being his mother for anything in the world!!
Today….think about where your focus is today. Where is God in your priority list? Would you say that you have a heart like Mary or Joseph? Is your heart "perfect toward Him"? Are you available for whatever He calls you to do or wherever He calls you to go whether it is
Across the room……….
Down the street…………
Across the country…………
Or around the world??????
Are you available?
Are you willing?
Are you seeking?
Are you listening?
Are you tuned in to His Spirit?
Whose voice are you listening to?
Who plans your day?
Have you talked with Him today?
Have you opened His word and sought a word from Him?
Do a heart check today……..don’t miss a blessing! God may want to change your world FOREVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Sunday, December 9, 2007
Doing things God’s way is not always easy. Often we face conflicts, unkind comments, ridicule and sometimes are ostracized by both family and friends. Facing that from strangers is one thing, facing it from family and friends is another story.
In our recent Bible study on the Friendships of Women, we looked at Mary and Elizabeth's relationship. I realized for the first time how precious God was to bring these two women together at a point of great need in BOTH of their lives! Elizabeth was experiencing her own miracle after waiting many years to have a child, only to finally be resolved that she would never bear a child. Such unimaginable joy....yet no one to share it with because her husband could not speak a word! Now every woman knows how much she needs to be able to discuss the upcoming birth of her child----after all, a joy shared is a joy doubled!
Then Mary, suddenly with child by none other than the Holy Spirit of God Himself, shows up on Elizabeth's doorstep!! Talk about needing someone to talk to!!!!!!!!! Can you imagine all that MARY had to discuss with Elizabeth! WOW! For three months she resided with this older cousin, seeing her in the last stages of her pregnancy and probably even being there for the birth itself. God used that time, no doubt, to prepare Mary for what was ahead for her. God is so personal. He knows just what we need and provides for every need...even down to giving us someone to share our hearts with.
Once Mary was back home, she and Joseph did not run away or hide. They obeyed. They went about their daily life as they awaited the birth of this baby. And when the government said they had to go to Bethlehem, some 90 miles away, to be counted for the census, they also did what was required of them. They also obeyed the law. They were poor. They traveled by donkey. There is no indication that they had servants travelling with them to help them or to run ahead and make provision for them.
When they came to Bethlehem, they were alone, searching for a place to spend the night. They had no family with them for support or comfort. Don’t you know that Joseph must have been thinking "God, if you wanted your child to be born, why in a place like this? Why didn’t you provide a nice place for the event to take place and a midwife to help?" Don’t you know that he wondered if something were wrong, if he had missed a sign, or was he possibly expecting angels to descend and bring the baby into the world in some miraculous way? I’m sure giving birth in a smelly stable amongst the donkeys, sheep and goats was not the way either of them imagined it. Yet God was still in control!
Often when we follow God, we do not know how He will bring about His plan. Nothing seems to go as WE imagined. It’s just not how we thought it would be. Yet, we must still continue to trust and obey.
As you contemplate that thought, I would like to leave you with a song that has meant a lot to me, that echoes every heart that has ever been in a difficult place, a pit, or circumstances that did not make sense, and yet has learned we must keep trusting….
Casting Crowns - Praise You In This Storm
From the album Lifesong
I was sure by now
God, You would have reached down
And wiped our tears away--
Stepped in and saved the day.
But once again, I say "Amen", and it’s still raining.
As the thunder rolls,
I barely hear You whisper through the rain
"I’m with you"
And as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise the God who gives
And takes away
I’ll praise You in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
Every tear I’ve cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm
Saturday, December 8, 2007
Did he find it? Listen for yourselves to Mary’s response to the visit from Gabriel when he gave her the news "Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it unto me as thou hast said." (Luke 1: 38). What would YOU have said had you been met by an angel and told YOU were going to bear God’s child?! I’ve tried to picture myself in that position. First of all, to my knowledge, I’ve never seen an angel (although my granddaughter comes pretty close!) I can think of one instance in my life where I MAY have….but not like Mary saw Gabriel. I have no doubt that we encounter angels all the time. God even tells us to be careful "lest we entertain angels unaware". So we MAY have been protected by them, led by them and been in their presence unknowingly.
Mary, on the other hand, KNEW that she was seeing an angel! Gabriel was a special messenger of God and he spoke directly and audibly to her. There was no mistake. Just that much would be mind boggling to me. But once I caught my breath or picked myself up off the floor from actually SEEING an angel, to hear and comprehend his message would have definitely knocked me off my feet.
I would have had a thousand questions! "Why me?" "What will people say?" "How will I face Joseph?" "Will it be a normal pregnancy and delivery?" But Mary just accepted Gabriel’s words and submitted herself completely to the Lord without question. It reminds me of a song we have sung so often "When you walk with the Lord in the light of his word, what a glory He sheds on our way. What He says we will do, where he sends we will go, never fear only trust and obey." That is exactly what Mary did. She obeyed and she trusted God to work out the details.
As we approach this Christmas season, maybe we need to do a heart check. It is doubtful that God will come to us and choose us for a task like Mary’s. But….He is still looking for hearts that are perfect toward Him. How do we respond? When the lines are long at the check out and the cashier is a real grouch, He is looking for a heart that will lavish grace. Do we?? When the days have been full of shopping or fighting traffic after a long day at work, and our spouse asks us to do something for them, do we gripe and complain, whine and moan, or do we say "yes" and do it "as unto the Lord"? When we are making Christmas goodies for our neighbors, we are prompted by the Holy Spirit to take some to the neighbor who was rude to us or spoke ill of us to another neighbor, do we stiffen our neck and say "Never!" or do we say "Yes, Lord" and take them with a smile? When God prompts us to share Christ with someone, do we make excuses and clam up or do we walk across the room and share what He lays on our hearts, trusting Him with the results?.
He is looking for hearts that are open toward Him, hearts willing to trust and obey….sometimes without understanding why. What is the condition of your heart today?
Thursday, December 6, 2007
The fact he did not do that immediately speaks of his great love for Mary and, I think, the fact was that he was having a hard time imagining that she could have betrayed him. That was just not Mary’s character. Remember, this was a young woman God Himself chose to bear His Son. She was a godly young woman.
We often think how wonderful it must have been to be chosen to bear God’s son…and it was an honor, no doubt. But it came with a price…a heavy price. Today, let us think about what it was REALLY like for Mary AND for Joseph to accept the words of the angel and to move forward with their lives. Put yourself in their place and think how YOU would have reacted had you been them!
If you had been Mary, how would you have told Joseph? If you had been Joseph, what would your reaction have been had your betrothed told you she was visited by an angel and told she was going to have the Son of God? Matthew tells us that he was of a mind to "put her away privately"….meaning he was going to divorce her as quietly as possible. I think that shows us that he did not believe her….or at least the part about it being God’s child. What did her parents say? She went to her cousin Elizabeth’s soon after. Did her parents send her there? Were they ashamed? Were they hoping Elizabeth would get the "truth" out of her? Scripture does not tell us. But I think we need to really think of what she went through and yet, I believe that God knew how she would handle it and that is part of the reason He chose her.
In spite of how difficult it must have been to tell her loved ones and bear the brunt of their response, Luke’s recording of Mary’s song in Luke 1: 46-55 gives us insight into Mary’s own response and to her heart:
"My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God MY Savior
For He has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden, for Behold…
From henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For He that is mighty has done GREAT things and holy is His name!"
Today…….. in whatever circumstances you find yourself……….. may you be able to say with Mary, "My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God MY Savior!!!!!
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
I have often wondered what it must have been like to be Mary. She was probably only about thirteen or fourteen, Joseph, her husband-to-be, only a few years older. I can’t remember much about being thirteen, except that it is an awkward age. You are not really considered a ‘child’ anymore, yet you are just barely a teenager and still far from being an adult. You are just in that ‘in between’ stage. Your body is changing from child to adult and those changes are driving you nuts! For females, her body is changing from little girl into a woman, huge changes that will mean she will soon be capable of becoming a mother….even though that is the farthest thing from her mind at the moment. Yet, for this young Jewish girl, it may not have been so far off in her mind. It was customary in those days for young girls to marry at the age of thirteen or fourteen, so it was not out of the ordinary that she was about to be married. Her dad was not going to come looking for them with a shotgun. In fact, he was probably preparing her dowry and making plans for the wedding because Mary was promised to Joseph.
Weddings were much different in those days. Scripture tells us that Mary was "betrothed" to Joseph. Today it is often said that they were engaged, putting a modern day spin on a Biblical event. But that really gives a false picture. In ancient days, it was customary for the father of the groom to send out an agent to find a bride suitable for his son. Later the son and prospective bride would be introduced. However, the bridegroom did have a say in it. If they chose to marry, a price had to be paid to the father of the bride. Then there would be a ceremony in which the groom would give her a symbol of his love, something of value…. today it would be a ring. Then a contract was written and had to be signed. This contract stated the price of the bride, the promises of the groom and the rights of the bride. The rite of betrothal is complete when the bride accepts the groom’s gift(s) and signs the contract. Then a cup of wine was shared between the bride and groom to seal the contract. At this time the groom would return to his father’s house and begin to prepare a home for his new bride. Before he left her, however, he would say "I go to prepare a place for you and if I go, I will come again for you." Sound familiar? John 4:1-3 records the same statement made by Jesus to his disciples! The groom’s father would decide when everything was ready for his son’s bride, and then he would tell him to go and get her. The bride, in the meantime, did not know when he would be coming. It could be any time in the next year. She was to watch and wait and be ready for his arrival at any time. When he was approaching for her, people would run ahead of him and proclaim "Behold! The bridegroom cometh!" Then he would come for her, they would then enter the marriage chamber where they would consummate the marriage and would remain in the wedding chamber for 7 days while the guests celebrated and on the 7th day they would emerge and a great marriage feast would be held!
The bride was to be watching and waiting. Today, if you are a believer, you are part of the Bride of Christ. Your Groom….Jesus Christ…is going to return for you one day. Are you
Longing……. For that day???
One day, God will give the word, and the proclamation will sound "Behold! The Bridegroom Cometh!" Will He be coming for you? It could be today! Are you ready????
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
For me, the Christmas season begins the day after Thanksgiving. Some call it "Black Friday", but I LOVE it! I have been almost every year since we were married. Some say they would not fight the traffic and the crowds for it. They don’t bother me. It’s all part of it. It gets me in the spirit of Christmas. Some people say I’m nuts….maybe I am, but if so, it’s for a very good reason. You see, the reason that I enjoy all that madness is that I’m shopping for the people I love most in the world. And that gives me great joy!
We often hear it said "It’s the thought that counts". You usually hear that when you get something like that hideous sweater from Aunt Josephine or those tube socks with the red and blue bands at the top from your grandmother. You open the gift, see what it is and immediately think "re-gifting drawer", when someone close leans over and whispers in your ear "It’s the thought that counts". Yes, I see you smiling…you have ALL been there! And it genuinely is because they were thinking of you in the first place and even though their gift might not make your "Top Twenty" in the gift department, they remembered you, they took the time to shop and they spent their hard-earned money on you.
Now I try very hard not to make those kinds of shopping "faux paus", but I’m sure I probably have a time or two. Yet I KNOW in my heart, that I truly do my best to please the people that I am shopping for. I want them to be delighted with their gift. No, in fact, I want them to be extremely excited and happy with it. I want it to be something that they will enjoy, that they will find useful and sometimes even be something that will be a blessing to them. I am thinking of them with love in my heart as I shop…because I treasure them and want the very best for them.
The worst part of shopping is never being able to buy enough. When I am shopping for the ones I love, I want to give them the very best and I want to give them everything I think they would love to have. But, I’m not Bill Gates, soooooooooo…..I can’t. But..as I think of Christmas, and what Christmas is REALLY about, we have all been given the ultimate gift.
God gave us the most priceless gift of all and it came all the way from Heaven. He was thinking of us with a love that cannot be compared to any of our earthly attempts at love. John 3:16 says "For God so loved the world [that’s you and me!] that He GAVE His only Son [Jesus Christ] that whoever would believe in Him, would not perish but would have everlasting life." It is my prayer that as you read these daily devotions, that you will realize that even before you open the first gift on Christmas morning, you have already been sent the most precious gift of all….Heaven’s gift….Jesus Christ.
Monday, December 3, 2007
I LOVE beautifully wrapped packages! I have fallen in love with wire-edged ribbon the last few years because even a non-bow maker like me can make a half-way decent bow with it. And packages wrapped in that wide ribbon just look SO beautiful!!
Yet we all know that what is most important is NOT the wrapping, but the gift inside. Be it large or small, expensive or not, it truly IS the thought that counts as it is given. When given with a heart of love, it really doesn't matter if it is tube socks or diamonds, it is to be appreciated and cherished.
When contemplating the true GIFT of this season....the Gift of JESUS CHRIST....I was reminded of something that the Lord had taught me a few years ago through another devotional. I hope as you read it, you, too will be reminded of the value of this priceless GIFT!!
Sometimes God hits me so squarely between the eyes with something I had never thought of before, that I have to stand back and just go "WOW!!"
I was reading a devotional this morning in which the writer was thanking God for loving her, etc. You could almost picture her standing with Jesus much like we would run into a friend at Walmart and begin to thank her for the tablecloth she had loaned us. She thanked him for loving her, for caring for her and for sending His Son to die for her. As I pictured this scene in my mind, I thought of how often I had thanked God for sending Jesus to die for me. And I truly meant it, but I suddenly realized how glib and trite that puny thank you sounded in light of what He had done for us.
I guess what really brought it home to me was something that had just happened in my life 2 weeks ago. My daughter was away at school, very sick and getting worse and she was 4 hours away. I was desperate to find someone to help her. I knew that even if I left immediately, I could not get there in time to find a doctor and get an appointment before closing time. I was blessed to find her friend’s Dad, Dr. Butler, who not only got her an appointment with an ENT specialist, but took time away from his own practice to check on her and make numerous calls to this worried mother. He was so kind, so caring and so thoughtful, that I was touched beyond words. I tried SO hard to convey to him how grateful I was, but words were just so inadequate.
As I pondered this morning on how glibly we say "thank you" to God for Jesus, I was reminded of how VERY grateful I felt toward this doctor whom I had never met in my life, and how hard I tried to express that. "Have I ever tried THAT hard to express my feelings to God", I wondered to myself. And what HE did is so much MORE than what Dr. Butler did. He found her medical help, Jesus DIED for us!! The magnitude of that is just incomprehensible to our finite minds! There is NO way we can put into words the gratitude we have for that.
Then, as if God whispered it Himself, it came to me. "You say it with your life." My life…the life I have because of HIM…..that is how I say thank you. What I do with this unspeakable gift is my tribute…my thank you to Him!!
I thought of how painful it is when someone loses a loved one. But then they give the gift of life by donating that person’s heart to someone who would otherwise die without the transplant. Can you imagine giving your child’s heart to a man so he could live, and then he recover and go on to become a murderer?!! Can you imagine how devastated you would be? You would feel like your child’s heart had been wasted. Yet if this same heart were placed into a man who went on to become a great evangelist or a scientist who found a cure for cancer, how thrilled you would be to be know that your child’s death had given life to this one who had done so much for others!! That must be how God feels about us and how we live our lives.
Therefore, we need to realize each day that we have this unspeakable gift and seek to so walk before Him so that our lives will be a continual "thank you" to Him. That is why our walk is SO important!! Our mere words could NEVER express to Him what this gift means, but our obedience and commitment can. "Father, help me to never take this gift for granted. Help me to so walk before you that my life will reflect the gratitude I have in my heart for all you have done for me." "Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift!!"
February 21, 2002