You Just Have to be Normal to Carry the Extraordinary

Luke 1:30-33 (NKJV) 30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

I want to continue looking at the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Last week we discussed how important she was and how her willingness to be used of God opened the door to salvation for all of us. I do not believe that Mary was anything more than a normal human woman. I do not believe that she should be venerated in the way some others do. However, I believe we should be grateful for her obedience.

I think it is interesting to note that what Mary brought to the equation required only that she be human and that she be willing. It was the fullness of time as the Father defined it. It was time to put the final phase of the plan to redeem man in motion. The only way that could be possible was for the Father himself to take the form of human flesh. God must become man.

The Father supplied the “God” part of the equation. John 1:1 tells us that the Word of God and God himself are one. Verse 14 tells us that the Word “became flesh.” 1 Peter 1:23 says that we have been born again of an incorruptible seed, the Word of God. If we put these verses together, we understand how Mary became pregnant with the Son of God.

The angel tells Mary that the Holy Spirit will overshadow her. The Word of God became a physical seed that fertilized the egg in Mary’s womb. The child conceived was therefore divine. The Word became flesh. However, to be flesh he must also be human. The human component came from Mary.

Her obedience changed the world. What did she actually have to do to change the world? She had to do what multiplied millions of other human women had done. She had to carry a baby, give birth to that child and be a mother to him. She did not have to lead an army, participate in a revolution or be a political leader. She just had to be a normal woman willing to obey God!

This gives me great hope that I can change my world. I do not have to be something more than what I am. I just have to be a normal person willing to obey God. I do not have to be exceptionally gifted or talented. I do not have to travel the world. I do not have to have any special education. God may use any or all of these things. I just have to be willing to allow God to live through my humanity.

To an observer it did not look like anything supernatural or extraordinary was happening to Mary. For 9 months, she was a pregnant woman just like every pregnant woman before her. I believe she probably got morning sickness. I think she was just as uncomfortable at 8 ½ months as my wife was with our six children. Everything on the outside looked completely ordinary. However, the extraordinary was growing in her.

As we approach a new year, I believe we need to realize that the same Word that was in Mary is in us. She carried the Word as a physical mother. We carry the Word as a vessel for the supernatural God to change our world. Our “pregnancy” does not result in a physical baby. Our “pregnancy” can bring forth the power of God in our everyday situations.

Many Christians think they have to be something more than what they are to be used of God. The lesson we should learn from Mary is that God needs what we are. We are human beings. We live in the human world. God wants access to that world. His chosen method of gaining that access is through human vessels. In Mary’s case, he needed someone who would carry his human form and bring it to birth so that he could redeem man. Our job is different.

Redemption has already been accomplished. Jesus carried his blood to the heavenly holy of holies and sat down at the right hand of God. He does not need to be born into the world again. We received the same seed that produced Jesus and were born again in our spirit. He needs those who will take the seed of his Word to those who do not know him so that they can be born again as well.

He needs a people who will carry the word of reconciliation to the world.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (NKJV) 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 20 Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. 21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Mary had to be a normal human being to fulfill her calling. She had to be willing to allow the Spirit of God to move upon her and she had to be willing to receive the seed of God’s word. She did this at great risk. She could have been stoned for fornication. She could have been forced to live as an outcast. There were all kinds of bad things that could have happened to her because of her obedience. She chose to obey anyway and the world was never the same.

God always has leaders. God gives gifts to all people. Each one of us carries a touch from the supernatural hand of God. We are capable of being a channel for his power to the earth. However, I think it is important that we understand that God needs us to be real human beings. He needs us to be factory workers and teachers. He needs us to work in stores and even in government. He needs us to raise families and live normal lives. He needs us to do these things because it is normal people we must reach.

At the same time, we must remember that although we are normal on the outside the supernatural is growing within us. We are flesh and blood just like our neighbors but we are also vitally joined to the supernatural God. While Mary’s job was to produce a baby, ours is to produce disciples. He gave Mary what she needed to do her job and he gives us what we need to do ours.

Mark 16:15-18 (NKJV) 15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

Mary was called to produce one birth. We are called to produce many births. She just had to be a mother willing to obey God. We just have to be normal people willing to obey God. He took care of the supernatural part in Mary’s pregnancy. He will take care of the supernatural part in ours as well, if we cooperate with him as she did.

Get ready for a wonderful and productive 2015!

The Handmaiden of the Lord

Luke 1:38(NKJV) 38Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

This week we have taken a different look at the Christmas story from the perspective of Mary. Here is a teenage girl confronted with a promise given by the Lord. The promise is not for healing or prosperity. It is not for success in her future life. Instead, she is given the opportunity to carry the Messiah of the whole world in her body. She must risk her future and her life to receive this promise.

The weight of the plan of God to save all of humanity rests upon her shoulders. If she says no, God will find another way to do what he plans to do. However, we see in Isaiah 7:14 that this is her destiny.

Isaiah 7:14(NKJV) 14Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.

Note in this verse that it does not say “a virgin shall conceive” but it says, “the virgin shall conceive.” It is as if the light of eternity is shining upon Mary as this moment. What will she say?

Of course, we know what she says because we can read it. However, try to think in terms of not knowing her answer. Imagine how she must have felt at this time. She did not understand all the ramifications of what the Lord was asking of her, but she did know that it would not be easy. She knew that the Messiah was coming soon. In addition, she knew that his coming was a pivotal event in the history of her nation. This is a tremendous burden for a simple girl.

In today’s scripture, we read her answer. “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it happen just as you say it should.” Mary says yes, to whatever God needs her to do. She says she will carry the promise of God into a world that, for the most part, did not want that promise. She will risk her reputation and her body to carry salvation for the world.

We know the price that Jesus paid. He allowed himself to be arrested, beaten and crucified so that all humanity could accept his sacrifice and be “born again.” Any who choose to can become a child of God free from sin and with heaven as their eternal home. It is impossible to minimize this sacrifice and it is impossible for any of us to pay it. That is why Jesus had to be born of a virgin and then die for us. However, what of Mary’s sacrifice.

Mary’s sacrifice was not to pay for salvation. Her sacrifice was to carry salvation to the world. If she had not been willing to do what the angel had asked, it would have been impossible for anyone to be born again. We can assume that God would have found another way, but we have no idea what that would have been. It was all upon Mary and her willingness to obey.

As I thought about this aspect of the Christmas story, I realized why the Lord led me to think about Mary. We cannot pay Jesus sacrifice but we can receive the promise the Lord gave to Mary. We cannot die for the sins of the world. We cannot even pay the price for our own sins. We can carry salvation to the world just as Mary carried it for the world.

Mary’s story begins with the angel telling her that she was highly favored by the Lord. She is called blessed more than all women and told that the Lord is with her in a special way. I believe the Lord is saying the same thing to us and our generation. We are favored by God and he is with us is a very special way.

We live in a world that is full of trouble. A great portion of this world has rejected God and religion in general. Many of those who embrace religion and the reality of the existence of God, serve a religious system that does not stand for the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. They fight to remove Jesus’ influence from the world and enslave it in a system of religious legalism that threatens to return everyone to the dark ages.

We have been favored to live in this day. We have the answer to every problem the world faces. More important, we have access to the only name by which salvation can come to individuals in this troubled world.

Acts 4:12(NKJV) 12Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

We carry the promise of God for salvation to the world. The bible tells us that God is with us in a special way to enable us to carry out this mission.

Mark 16:15-20(NKJV) 15And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.  16He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.  17And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues;  18they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” 19So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.  20And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.

These are the words of Jesus to each of us today. The scriptural record tells us that when the first disciples took up this challenge, the Lord did exactly what he said he would do. This is our promise that God is with us to do what he asks us to do.

God will not force you and me to obey any more than he would force Mary. Mary said, “Let it be to me as you say.” It was a choice. She risked everything from ridicule to death in order to carry out the assignment the Lord offered her. She did not have to do it but everything depended upon her obedience. I believe we are in the very same position.

If we choose to spread the gospel to those around us, we may be ridiculed. We may find that our reputations will suffer. There are places where those who preach the gospel lose their jobs, their families and even their lives. In the USA today, that is not the case. Our risk is far less than that; however, the responsibility is no less.

If Mary did not carry the promise of salvation, who would? If you and I do not carry the promise of salvation who will? If Mary had said no in her day of visitation, how would the God of the universe come to occupy the body of a human being? If we will not declare the message of salvation, how will anyone receive their own visitation and their salvation?

I think that we sometimes pray for a visitation of God and an outpouring of his power so that the world will know that we were right all along. This is not the reason to pray for the outpouring of the Spirit. The reason we should pray for God to move is the same reason Mary agreed to carry a supernatural baby into the world. We should pray for God to move because all of humanity needs to receive the promised salvation.

We are in the same position Mary was in on that fateful day. The same spotlight of eternity that was on her then is on us today. The question is will we have the same courage that she had. Will we respond to God’s invitation the way she did? I pray we do. The future of the world and its people depends upon our answer.

“Behold the servant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”

The Weight of Responsibility

Luke 1:30-34(NKJV) 30Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” 34Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”

Yesterday we spent some time thinking about Mary, the mother of Jesus, as part of our Christmas celebration. We learned that Mary was an ordinary teenage girl who experienced and extraordinary supernatural visitation. God gave her a promise that she would bear a child conceived by the Holy Spirit. This child will be called the son of God and take the throne of his “father” David. The problem is that Mary is engaged but not yet married. Any pregnancy will ruin her marriage, her reputation, any hope at a normal life and endanger her physical life. This is not the kind of promise most of us would want.

Today I want to look at the burden the angel is asking her to carry for all of humanity. The virgin birth, along with the resurrection of Jesus Christ are often viewed as Christian mythology. They are nice stories that could not have actually happened. It is acceptable to live according to the philosophy of Christianity, but we must be realistic and reject such myths. The truth is very different. Without the virgin birth and the resurrection, Christianity as a religion is unworkable.

God created man for a purpose. That purpose was to be his family. God wanted beings that were like him with whom he could fellowship. To accomplish this he created a being that was spirit like him, but placed this being in a limited physical body and a limited physical environment. God is spirit and is unlimited. There could only be one God so man could not be unlimited. This compromise created a being that was made of the same spiritual substance as God, without being an unlimited being.

Because of man’s rebellion in the Garden of Eden, he was separated from God. Sin became a part of man’s nature and God’s pure holiness could not come in contact with that sin without destroying both the sin and the vessel carrying it. It is the same principle as light and darkness. Light always destroys darkness no matter how dim the light or dark the darkness may be.

This means that man cannot fulfill his purpose as the child of God. There cannot be intimate fellowship between them because man is now a child of wrath, or the devil, by nature. (Eph 2:3) Someone must defeat man’s overlord, Satan, and free him from the nature of sin. The problem is twofold. Only God is strong enough to defeat the devil. However, the crime is man’s crime so he must be the one to pay the price. God is absolutely just and will do nothing that is not within the boundaries of justice.

Man can pay the price for sin but the price is death. Once that price is paid, man is eternally separated from God. Since everything produces after its own kind, man will produce the same kind of being that he is. Man’s seed carries the death, so every human who is born of human seed will carry the sin nature that came upon Adam because of his sin in the Garden. (Romans 5) God cannot simply forgive it because of his own nature. Man cannot pay the price because of his nature.

God can simply destroy the creation and start again. However, God is absolute love as well as absolute justice. Justice will not allow him to overlook sin, but love will not allow him to abandon his family. God is left with an impossible situation. Of course, with God all things are possible.

What is the solution? God must become man, pay the price for sin and defeat the devil so man can be free. Then man can choose to receive this sacrifice and be “born again” as a new creature no longer bound by the “nature of wrath” that came upon Adam. The being that can accomplish this must be God but he must be a valid part of Adam’s race. God cannot simply create a new body from the dust of the earth because then the result would not be truly human. He cannot be conceived in the natural way because all creatures produce after their own kind and the result would carry the curse of sin. God could not inhabit such a body without destroying it.

There is only one answer. He must be born just as all other people are born. However, he cannot have a human father. If he is conceived in a real human female without the human seed, he will carry her humanity but not the curse of sin carried by man’s seed. The only kind of being that can do all that is required is one who is conceived in a virgin. The seed that creates him must be the Word of God. He will be human because of his mother. He will be divine because of his real father. He will be both God and man. (1 Peter 1:17-25)

This virgin born man will have the right to pay the price for humanity but the power to defeat the devil. He can choose to take upon himself the sin of man, but since he will have no sin to pay for, the payment will be for all who choose to take it as their own. This is the only way to meet the requirements of both love and justice.

Obviously, this is a short explanation of a long subject, but think about Mary for a moment. Not only is she being asked to do something that could ruin her own life, but she is now the focal point of thousands of years of God’s dealing with man. All God has done to this point, including creating the nation of Israel rests upon the decision of this young girl. The future of humanity rests upon here answer to the angel.

I do not believe God would have forced her to accept this role. God does not work that way. In the Garden of Gethsemane, we see Jesus praying to his father. His request is simple. “Father, I do not want to do this.” If he had no choice, he would not have prayed the second half of his prayer. “Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.”

I believe Mary has a choice. I believe she could say, “This is too much for a young girl to bear. I have my life to live. You will have to find someone else to carry this promise.” Her answer will determine the future of man. What will she say to this promise?

Think About Mary

Luke 1:26-33(NKJV) 26Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary 28And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” 29But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

Greetings again in the name of Jesus. I trust you all had a wonderful Christmas day with friends and family.

As I was praying about what to share with our church last Sunday, which was Christmas Sunday, I was finding it hard to settle on a message. Holiday messages tend to be difficult for me because what people expect is always the same. I have been a pastor for almost 35 years and I have preached every Christmas message I know many times over. As I was praying, I felt the Lord said, “Just think about Mary.”

We usually focus on the birth of Jesus during this season and rightly so. However, he was not the only character in the story. What of his mother? What was her story? In today’s scripture, we see the angelic visitation that announces to Mary the role she must play in this drama. Who was Mary anyway?

She was a young girl, probably between the ages of 13 and 16 years old. She was not from a wealthy or influential family. She was related to the family of King David. I have a distant relative who was a Duke in the Alsace-Lorraine region of France but I am hardly considered royalty. I suspect that Mary’s connection to David was something similar. She was an ordinary girl of her day.

Sometimes when we read the bible, we think the people must have lived from one visitation to another. We read of the angel coming to Mary and think this was probably a common occurrence but it was not. Mary had never seen an angel. She probably never met anyone who had seen and angel. She knew they existed because it was part of her religious tradition, but that does not mean she was not shocked by this supernatural visitation.

Therefore, the stage is set for this powerful drama to begin. There is a teenage girl just like all the other teenage girls of her day. She receives a visitation like no other she has ever heard of or seen. The greeting she receives from the angel is, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” That is quite a greeting for a 14-year-old girl. It must mean that something wonderful is going to happen to her. Perhaps she is going to become Queen just as her ancestor became King. A prophet visited him at a similar age. Maybe she will become rich or famous. Surely, it will be some wonderful promise that God will fulfill in her life. She is right, but not in the way we would probably think of a promise.

The angel tells her that she is going to have a baby. She is engaged, but she is not yet married. It is obvious from the description of the baby that this will be no ordinary child. He will be called the son of God and take the thrown of his father David. Her child is given two fathers; God and David. Neither seems to be a very likely candidate to Mary.

Mary understands that the angel is not talking about a child that will come as a result of her impending marriage to the carpenter Joseph. She is going to have a baby before she is married. All of this had to be quite a blow to a teenage girl.

On a personal level, this is a burden to bear. She must somehow inform her husband that she had not been unfaithful when it becomes obvious that she is pregnant. We know that the Lord will protect Mary and let Joseph in on the plan himself, but Mary does not know this now. Her marriage is in jeopardy.

In our world, it is no stigma to have a child out of wedlock. In her world, it was a matter of great shame to the whole family. Her reputation would have been ruined. This could have led to very severe consequences including death by stoning. At the very least, she would not have been able to expect a normal life and family after this shameful pregnancy.

Finally consider the fact that death in childbirth was a far more common occurrence in her day than today. Without the aid of friends and family because of the circumstances of her pregnancy and without a husband to care for her it was highly likely that she would not survive this “promised” experience from the Lord. How many of us would simply have told the angel to look elsewhere for someone to be so “favored of God.”

This is what she faces on a personal level. The responsibility she will carry if she accepts this promise is even greater. We will look at that tomorrow.

Christmas Love

1 John 4:10 (NKJV) 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

This week we have been looking at three things the world tries to incorporate into the “Holiday Celebration” while minimizing the celebration of the birth of Christ. The first is joy. While gifts and parties give both pleasure and happiness, joy is something far deeper. The joy spoken of by the angels in their announcement to the shepherds has nothing to do with worldly happiness. It is the inward, abiding sense of wellbeing that comes from knowing relationship with the heavenly Father. The joy of Christmas is the joy of knowing that the birth of this baby was the beginning of the process that made that relationship possible.

The second is peace. The world concentrates on the holidays as a time when we practice peace between groups in the world. However, the peace of Christmas is the peace God made available to man through the birth and eventual resurrection of Jesus. There was a gulf between God and man because of sin. The birth of Jesus is the entry of the God of the universe into our world to put an end to the war between God and man making it possible for peace between them.

The final element that we hear about during the holidays is love. We know that love of family is an important factor in our celebrations. This is as season where the expression of the love we have for our friends is foremost in our thinking. Love is the motivation for the giving of gifts. All of these things are worthy parts of the Christmas season. However, they are only reflections of the real love of Christmas.

It is almost cliché to say that the gift of the babe in the manger is one of the ultimate expressions of the love of God yet it must be said. God created man as his family. Man rebelled against God resulting in a spiritual union between God’s children and the God of this world, Satan.

Man was the one who rebelled. God had given clear instructions to man about what was acceptable and what was not acceptable. God had provided all man could ever need. Man lived in a paradise provided by his Father. Nevertheless, man chose to follow the woman into sin. The bible says the woman was deceived but Adam was not. (1 Timothy 2:14) He sinned by willful choice. God had no obligation to save him. He had effectively become an enemy to God.

Romans 5:8-10 (NKJV) 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

Christmas love is not about love of family. It is not about brotherly love or romantic love. It is the love of God that chose to reach into our sinful condition that he might buy back his children.

It is hard to imagine the price paid by Almighty God when he was born in that manger. Philippians 2 tells us that God laid aside his limitlessness to take on the form of man. The creator of the universe became a baby. He was just as helpless and physically vulnerable as any baby ever born.

By design, he was born into the humblest of circumstances. He was not raised in privilege but experienced every temptation and hardship that man can face. (Hebrews 4:15) What must it have been like for the holy God to live in the midst of the sin and depravation into which humanity had fallen?

I love today’s scripture. Many times we teach on the need to love God. I believe that is true. We do need to cultivate and express our love for God. Yet this verse tells us the key to that love. It is not in our repentance. It is not in our works. It is not in anything we can work up in our emotions. Our love for God does not originate with us. Our love for God is a response to his love for us.

In this verse, there are two ways in which that love is expressed. The second is the one we usually focus upon. God sent Jesus to be the payment for our sins. He died for us. In truth, this is the love of Jesus for us. I believe he made a choice to die for us in the Garden of Gethsemane. He asked the Father to let that bitter cup pass from him. He did not want to do it. In the midst of his torment he uttered those powerful words, “Not my will but your will be done!” He chose to die for us. There is no greater expression of love than that. (John 15:13)

The first statement in this verse is often overlooked. God the Father sent his son. That was the expression of the Father’s love for you and me. I have six children. I would far rather experience hardship than have them experience hardship. I would sacrifice myself for my children with little thought. That is what it means to be a father.

A much more difficult choice is to sacrifice one child for many children. Jesus was the only begotten of the Father. He was the only son who walked in true love and fellowship with the Father. Even those with the greatest revelation of who God is did not understand him. They saw him as the hard and harsh giver of the Law of Moses who would gladly punish the smallest transgression. That is not the nature of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Jesus knew the Father for who he really was. Jesus spent three and one half years trying to show him to the world, yet they did not see him. Jesus was the only one who walked as a true son of God in the way God wanted for Adam. He was the last Adam. (1 Cor. 15:45)

The love of Christmas is the love of the Father God for all his children. It is the love which would sacrifice his only true son so that he might win many sons. He had no guarantee that anyone would accept what he was offering. He gave Jesus to the world anyway.

As we approach the day when we celebrate the fact that Jesus was born in the world, remember the love of the Father for you. Let that love wash over you and respond to that love. No one has given more for you. If you are a parent, think about sacrificing your child for others who do not deserve the sacrifice. That is the love of Christmas.

In this is love. God the Father gave his son for us. Can I do anything less than give him my life?

Joy to the World

Luke 2:10 (NKJV) 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.

The Christmas season is the most important time of the year for many in the world today. It is not important because of the religious significance of the holiday. If anything, the religion of Christmas gets in the way of the real impact of the season for many. Christmas is important because stores and other businesses may lose money all year but if they do well at Christmas, they will prosper. Christmas for many is an economic holiday.

For those of us who understand what the focus of the Christmas celebration is supposed to be, this is something of a tragedy. In my last post, I spoke of the significance of the gift given at Christmas. In my family, it was the one time that I got whatever I wanted. I continued that when I was the parent and did my best to give the best gift possible to my children. My son preached in our church this week and told our church that he did the same with his children.

I was blessed to hear him say that this practice contributed to the fact that even through some difficult times, the one thing he knew was that he was always loved. Giving the best possible gift at Christmas was not the only thing we did to prove this to him. It was one thing we did. I believe the gift given by our Heavenly Father at Christmas is one thing that we can look to as proof of the Father’s love for his children.

I believe it is important to understand what these gifts represent. What is the gift the Father gave to his children in the event celebrated at Christmas? It was first and foremost a gift of himself. He came to the earth on that day. He became what we are. He entered into our reality in a way that is hard to imagine. Look at this verse in Philippians.

Philippians 2:6-7 (NLT) 6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form,

We focus on the baby in the manger at Christmas. Indeed, he was born as a baby. This is important so that we understand that he made himself human in every way. Every way that is but one. This baby was born without the sin nature that came upon all people because of the fall of man. It was not just a babe that was given at Christmas. The gift was the Father himself in human form who would grow up to be the savior of humanity.

I want to point to three other aspects of this gift that the world has tried to co-opt with little success. In their attempt to keep some of the significance of why we celebrate December 25, the world has emphasized three ideas that are a part of the real celebration. Those things are joy, peace and love. We sing songs of joy. Some even include the joy surrounding the birth of the baby in Bethlehem. Somehow, I believe that they miss the point.

The “holiday” season is a time when people speak of peace on earth. Yet there is no peace. In truth, the holidays are one of the most stress-filled times of the year. Of course, the love of friends and family has become one of the focuses of the season. Yet even in this, we often feel pressed by the obligations of this “love” and unable to enjoy the love itself.

I believe that if we want to partake of these three wonderful holiday gifts we must understand them in the context of the true gift. We have joy, peace and love because of what God gave at Christmas. Natural joy, peace and love are severely limited. The joy, peace and love of Christmas are not natural at all. They are parts of the Father’s nature that he made available to us by the gift of himself. Only in receiving that gift can we understand the other three.

Let us begin with joy. The angels told the shepherds that the news they brought was news of great joy. It is interesting that Christmas has become a time when we focus on pleasure and happiness instead of joy. We get pleasure from both giving and receiving gifts. The gifts and the process have the ability to make us happy. We have parties that have nothing to do with the Father’s gift and everything to do with pleasure. It seems that the “Christmas party” often becomes an excuse for behavior we would not engage in at any other time of year. None of this has anything to do with the joy of which the angels spoke.

Happiness and pleasure are desirable things in a person’s life. Everyone wants to be happy and pleasure is the channel that brings happiness to us. However, pleasure and happiness are fragile things. They are dependent upon outward things. We are happy when we have good things. Pleasure comes when we are doing things we like to do. When we do not have good things in life and when we must do things we do not like, happiness and pleasure flee like birds. The joy spoken of in the bible is different. The joy of Christmas is the joy of the bible.

Bible joy is not an emotion alone. Bible joy is an inward sense of wellbeing based in the knowledge that God loves us. According to Holman’s Bible Dictionary, joy is the fruit of a right relation with God. It is not something people can create by their own efforts.

The joy we can feel at Christmas has nothing to do with what we give or receive. It is not dependent upon the getting together of friends and family. It is not even dependent on our physical circumstances. Christmas joy can only be understood and released in our lives if we understand the true gift of Christmas. I have joy because God reached down and came to me when I needed him most.

When I do not have all that I want in life, I remember that God loved me to the degree that he came to earth to rescue me. When I receive the gift of salvation, I receive a joy that is deeper than anything life can give or take away. My joy is centered in the fact that I have relationship with God the Father. The joy of Christmas comes from remembering that this relationship was made possible by the birth of a baby who would become a man, who would become my savior.

As you go about your holiday business, enjoy the season. Derive pleasure from the giving and receiving of Gifts. Enjoy the time spent with friends and family. However, remember that you have access to something much deeper than these temporary pleasures. Christmas made salvation possible. Salvation makes true bible joy available to us.

As you celebrate Christmas, remember to rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice at the real gift of Christmas. As a Christian, this is one of the greatest gifts you have in your life. The joy of the Lord is your strength. This joy is also the greatest gift you have to give.

There are those around you who do not know joy. They may have momentary happiness, but joy is far from them. You can make it available to them by telling them that the baby born at Christmas became the savior of the world. Find someone you can give that gift to before the season is over.

If you are the one who has never received the salvation joy made available by Christmas, you can receive forgiveness and a new life by accepting Jesus as your personal savior and Lord. Just say, “Jesus, I don’t understand all of this, but I choose to receive you as my savior. Make this Christmas different. I accept that you died for me. I give you my life. Help me live for you.” I pray you find someone who can explain this to you in a more personal way.

Have a joyful Christmas!

Good Tidings of Great Joy!

Luke 2:10-11 (NKJV) 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

We find ourselves once again in the last month of another year. I confess that the Christmas season tends to be a little difficult for me. I am the youngest of seven children. The brother who was closest to me was 15 years old when I was born. The rest went up from there. When my father heard that my mother was pregnant at 41 his first comment was, “Oh boy! Now we can have Christmas again.”

My parents did not have much money but Christmas was the one time of year where they would do anything in their power to get me whatever I really wanted. Once I had children, I wanted to do for them what my Dad had done for me.

For the first few years, that was really no problem. We went into the ministry when my two oldest were 3 and 4 years old. We did not have a great deal of money but I managed to make sure we got our kids what they wanted for Christmas. As the years went by, they got older and we kept adding to the number. By the time I was 36 years old we had six and some of them were teenagers. The number and cost of the gifts had increased significantly. We were doing better but we still were not rich and the pressure began to mount.

Now I know what some of you are going to say. I should not have given into the commercial aspects of the season. It is not the size of the gift but the thought that counts. We should teach our children responsibility and not that they can have whatever they want. I agree with that sentiment 364 days of the year but not on Christmas! That is my curse.

As the years went by, I began to dread Christmas earlier and earlier. Now I have 6 children 3 spouses (with one to be added in March) and 14 grandchildren. These days I just leave the shopping to my wife.

Please pray that the Lord helps me with my “Scrooge” spirit, but let me also make something of a defense. It is not really commercialism that is at the heart of my problem. You see my father was a very good man but also a disappointed man. He was very talented in many ways. In some ways, I believe he was a genius.

He was a musician who as a young man formed a band that played at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. He was a natural engineer who created a prototype of an automatic transmission just before one was introduced. (Timing is everything.) He was gifted with all things mechanical. He functioned as a carpenter, electrician and machinist. He was a master auto mechanic. The one thing he did not have was an education.

My father and mother married when he was 17 and she was 16. My oldest brother was born in 1929. The last child before me was born in 1939. They raised six children through the heart of the depression and through World War II. They were forced to move to follow jobs because his education did not afford him a career. He did everything he could to provide for them.

My mother did not work. It just was not done in those days at least not in my family. She kept the family fed and together. She made the house a home but it was a very hard life with no time for further education. Through all the difficulties, they provided Christmas.

When I came along they were still not rich, but there was only one of me. As I said, Christmas was the time that my Mom and especially my Dad did all the things they could not do the rest of the year. Sometimes I am sure they did things they could not afford but they gave the best gift they possibly could. I remember many of those precious gifts to this day. It made Christmas magical and special.

I know they should have been concentrating on Jesus. They were Catholics and there was no doubt that the holiday was about the birth of Christ, but giving those special gifts to their last-born son was at the heart of it for them.

And finally, that became Christmas to me. It was not really about quantity, although we always had lots of presents under our tree. It was about getting each one the special gift, the one thing that I knew they wanted. I would go to every store in the area to find that gift at the best price. I would do everything in my power to get the guitar, car or latest electronics. There were GI Joe planes and forts. There were Barbie cars and houses. There were a few “Easy Bake Ovens” over the years and more than one “Lite Brite.”

My youngest, a daughter, always wanted the latest doll. She got the one that did somersaults, the one that burped, and many more. The thing is she hardly ever played with dolls! Still, they were the one gift she wanted so I got them for her. (Logic should have no place in such things!)

I will confess that sometimes I went into debt. I do not endorse that practice. I also confess that I have let the pressure of it get to me. More than the pressure of the expense, I have allowed my inability to continue giving them that one thing they want ruin Christmas for me a bit. Just because the oldest is 40 does not change the fact that, for me Christmas is about giving the best gift, the one gift that your child really wants. I know! That is unrealistic and not necessary. Even my children tell me so.

Although I freely admit to getting out of balance, I am not sure I am all wrong. What is Christmas really about after all? Is it not that our great Father God, in a fit of excess, gave the one gift to his children that they really needed; that they really wanted? Most of them do not know that to be true, but it is.

Christmas is about the babe in the manger of course. Christmas is about the God of the universe becoming man so that he could set us free from sin and death. Christmas is about many things that have nothing to do with malls and Santa Clause and all the cultural things that we enjoy. In essence, Christmas is about the gift!

Today’s scripture reminds me of how excited my Mom and Dad would get because of the gifts they were giving to me. It reminds me of how excited I would get when the kids would open that last gift which was always “the big gift.” Read what the verse says. The Father is excited about this wonderful gift he is giving his family!

I am just going to say it. I hate gift cards. I think that after reading this, maybe you can understand why. As you go through the Christmas season, do not allow yourself to give into the pressure that I did. Do not be caught up in the commercialism and overspending. On the other hand, you might remember that Christmas is about the best gift the Father could possibly give. Maybe you could find something, one thing that takes a little more thought than a gift card.

Do not misunderstand me. I use them too sometimes. (Well my wife does. I refuse!) That seems to be what the grandchildren want. Maybe, just for me, you could take the time to find one special thing. It does not have to be expensive it just has to be from the heart.

With that in mind, be as extravagant as you can be. Let that extravagance remind what Christmas is all about. It is about the most extravagant gift ever given.