This Season – Choose Faith or Fear

faith or fear

faith or fear

Faith- or Fear?

It’s Christmas time. For some of us, the season brings peace, joy, and hope. For others, it brings fear.

We’re no different from the folks who walked this earth when the Messiah was born. Some of them responded with faith, and others with fear.

Which one do we represent?

The Wise Men

Those wise men were gentile people. Wealthy and scholars of the times, they set out on a journey. That journey exhibited Faith. They had studied the signs and the stars, and they recognized that this star was different. How far did they travel? How long did it take?

Why did they do this? They took that journey because of Faith. They believed that the star signified the birth of the Messiah. They came for one purpose: to worship. The wise men welcomed the Messiah because of their faith in His promised redemption and peace.

Herod, the King

Herod was King and the man with the most power. Yet when the wise men showed up in Jerusalem searching for the “newborn king”, he was troubled. He was also afraid. A new king meant a threat to his throne and his power. Herod was not about to give that up. He sent the wise men on to Bethlehem and told them to come back and tell him where the child was so that he could come and worship, also. Bah humbug. He had no such intentions! He sent them on their way, asking for their return because he had plans to get rid of the threat. Herod, the most powerful man, responded in Fear.

This is why an angel told Joseph to take “the young child and his mother” and flee to Egypt. In the middle of the night!

“Because Herod,” the angel said, “is looking for the child so he can kill Him.”

Herod had one purpose: to protect his power. He couldn’t welcome the Messiah because He posed a threat to his reign and his power. Herod feared the Messiah because He promised an end to pomp and prestige for the king and the beginning of a new reign. Herod was afraid.

Are we a Herod or a Wise Man?

How is it with you and with me this Christmas season? Are we like the wise men or are we like Herod? Do we respond in Faith, or do we respond in Fear to the promise of a Savior?

faith or fear

Our response will direct the course of our lives. Choose Faith, not Fear!

faith or fear

 

After Grief – and What Jesus Did

Who would have thought that John the Baptist’s life would end in such a tragic death. He was, after all, born for the purpose of pointing others to the Messiah. Jesus and John the Baptist were distant cousins, but it’s not likely that they grew up in the same community. John was born to older parents and his purpose in life was to be the forerunner of Jesus Christ. It was John who baptized Jesus that day in the Jordan River. He was the one who said that the One coming after Him was mightier than he and he (John) was not even worthy to untie His shoelaces.

When John spoke boldly to Herod the tetrarch about his adultery with Herodias, Herod became angry. On his birthday, he was so enamored with the dancing of Herodias’ daughter that he told her he’d give her anything she asked. Prompted by her mother (who no doubt was also angry at John for his voice against her marriage to the brother of her former husband Philip), the daughter asked for the head of John the Baptist. She wanted it to be served on a platter.  John lost his life for speaking the truth. His head was delivered to the girl on a platter, who gave it to her mother.

When the disciples heard about this, they came and took John’s body to bury it. Afterwards,  they told Jesus.

You know what Jesus did? He got into a boat and went away to be alone. The gospel of Matthew tells us He went to a deserted place by Himself. The gospel of Mark says He asked His disciples to come away with him. At any rate, He just wanted to be alone with his closest friends.

You know what the people did? They followed Him on foot. 

Instead of having time by Himself to grieve the loss of His friend, Jesus saw the people coming to him. Scripture tells us that He had compassion on the people. Jesus looked at those people and felt sorry for them because they were just like a flock of sheep without a shepherd.

Every sheep needs a shepherd!  That day, Jesus continued to be a shepherd and healed their sick.

At  the end of the day, those same people were hungry. He could have said, “It’s not my problem.”

He could have turned them away and gone His own way – back to His boat and His place of refuge. 

You know what He did? He fed them – all of them:  5,000 men PLUS women and children. We’re talking 15,000-20,000 people here, folks. He did it by using five loaves and two fish. Not only did He feed that multitude, there were also twelve baskets of leftovers.

I’m not sure when or if  Jesus had time to go away and grieve by Himself. It seems He went from one crisis or need to another one. Certainly, He was all-powerful since He was God. Jesus was also human, and He experienced grief and loss just like we do. He grieved the loss of John.  Obviously, He felt the need to be alone in His grief – why else did He get into a boat to get to a solitary place? He was human.

You know what I learned from this true story?

I am encouraged to know that rest times are important. I am also challenged to learn that the needs of the sheep were so important that Jesus was willing to give up His wants to do His Father’s will. 

grief

Dreams of Christmas and the New Year

In a few weeks, our dreams for the New Year will be ready to be played out. Our God has a history of using any means to get a message to us. In addition to His Word, He has used a talking animal, prophets, children, adults, and angels. We do well to learn His ways of getting a message to His people.  We also do well to learn from the people God chose to carry out His work.

Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus, was visited by the angel of the Lord and given specific instructions from God. The visits by the same angel happened more than once and always in a dream. There were many other angels. The angels who heralded the birth of the baby King. Everyone knows about those angels. Those angels who told the shepherds to go to Bethlehem and see the Christ-child in the manger.

We use those angel symbols for peace, joy, and proclamation of good tidings. We know about those angels. The Christmas story is so familiar to those of us who have grown up hearing it year after year.

There was another angel. He is referred to as the angel of the Lord.  He appeared to the shepherds first before he was joined by the multitude of the heavenly  host. We don’t know his name for certain or his title except that he was the angel of the Lord.

God used him for more than making that initial announcement to the shepherds. He used him to give direction to Joseph through dreams.

After learning that Mary was with child, Joseph wrestled with what he should do. He was betrothed to Mary. In that time and culture, to break a betrothal was equal to divorce. That Joseph cared about Mary and her reputation is evident. Even though he was considering “divorce”, he was thinking he’d do it quietly. Otherwise, she could be stoned for her “sin” of fornication. The fact that he wanted to put her away “privately” tells of his love and affection for her.

Only Mary wasn’t guilty. Mary knew she was innocent, and so did God.

That night, as Joseph wrestled with what to do, God told him. While Joseph pondered on what to do, the angel of the Lord came to him in a dream.

Don’t be afraid to take Mary for your wife,” the angel said. “The child growing inside her is from the Holy Spirit.”

So Joseph married Mary. He didn’t put her away and he didn’t disown her. He married her and no doubt bore the brunt of shame from others. Mary knew, and Joseph knew that their relationship was pure. Even after their marriage, Joseph and Mary refrained from sexual relations. Joseph  remained pure so that Mary would be a virgin when she gave birth to the Christ- Child. That took some commitment to the call of God.

After the birth of the Baby and long after the visit by the shepherds, wise men came from the east to worship this Baby. Traveling through Jerusalem, they stopped to see Herod and asked about the King. Herod sent for his scribes, who told him where the Baby was to be born.

As a snake in the grass, Herod sent the wise men on their way, ordering them to return to Jerusalem and tell him where they found the Child so he could “go worship Him also.”

The men followed the star to the house where they found the young Child and His mother. In adoration, they knelt down and worshiped. They left gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

After they left, these men didn’t go back to Jerusalem because God warned them in a dream  to return to their own country another way.

The “snake” became enraged and prepared to strike. He commanded that all children two years- old and younger be killed. He would be sure to be rid of that Child.

However, God was ahead of him.  (He always is!)  After the wise men left, the angel of the Lord came in a dream to Joseph during the night and commanded him to get up and take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt.

Joseph obeyed. This man, who hadn’t asked for this job or this responsibility, did just what he was told to do. He woke up his family and fled with them to Egypt during the night. No doubt those treasures from the wise men helped fund their way for the journey and a new start in Egypt.

After Herod died, again  the angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream. This time he told him it was safe to take the Child and His mother and return to Israel. They started out, yet Joseph was afraid to go to Judea since the son of Herod was now reigning in his father”s stead. Again, Joseph was warned in a dream to go to Nazareth, a small town in Galilee instead.

All this happened so that the scripture could be fulfilled that said, “He will be called a Nazarene.

God is always there ahead of us.

When Joseph didn’t know what to do about his pregnant fiancee, God was there ahead of him. When Joseph wasn’t aware of impending danger, God knew, and He was there ahead of him. When Joseph was given a task to be the earthly father of Jesus and to provide for and protect this Child, God was there ahead of him.

During this Christmas season, and throughout the new year, hold tight to your dreams. Remember that God is there ahead of you and He will speak to you just like He did to Joseph. Let Him change your dreams. Whatever you do, be like Joseph.

Like Joseph, accept the plan God has for you – and don’t fight it.

Like Joseph, bear the brunt of ridicule and gossip that sometimes happens as a result of following God’s plan.

Like Joseph, be the person God wants you to be, even when the plan is not what you dreamed. If it means withholding yourself from what is rightfully yours in order to fulfill God’s plan, do it.

Like Joseph, be a part of a child’s life, even if the child is not your own.

Like Joseph, be the protector of children, even if they are not your own and it means getting up in the middle of the night for their rescue and protection, even when you have to risk your life.

Like Joseph, risk your heart and your life to help the Kingdom.

Like Joseph, you can be used to help bring God’s plan to completion.

 

 

 

 

 

Ten Things that Aren’t True about the Christmas Story – And One That Is

The Christmas story is real and it is true. We all have our memories of Christmas plays, songs, and programs. Because of those memories, those songs, or those plays, we often think some things are facts about the Christmas story when they really aren’t.

How many of these do you think are true?

  1. Mary and Joseph traveled by donkey to Bethlehem, and the wise men traveled by camel. Is this true? Maybe they did, but we don’t know. There is no mention of animals in travel in this Christmas story, even when Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt during the night. During this era, camels were a common mode of travel, yet there is no mention of a camel train with the journey of the wise men.
  2. Jesus was born the night Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem – and she was in labor when they got to the Inn. Is that true? Scripture indicates that they possibly arrived in Bethlehem at least two days earlier. This is what the story says:  “While they were there the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.”
  3. Jesus was born on December 25. We know this isn’t true. According to geographics, it is more likely that Jesus was born during spring months because the shepherds were out at night watching their flocks. Had it been winter, the flocks would have been inside.
  4. The Innkeeper was uncaring and heartless because he would not allow Mary and Joseph to stay in his Inn, even though she was very pregnant. Really? If you had been an Innkeeper and your rooms were filled, who would you have kicked out to make room for a pregnant woman? How many other pregnant women got there before Mary did and had a room? There is no mention of Joseph pleading for a place for his pregnant bride. It’s true that there was no room in the Inn, but there is no reason to believe that this Innkeeper was heartless. Just because he was an Innkeeper, it doesn’t mean it was his responsibility to host everyone who came for the census.
  5. Mary put Jesus into a manger that was filled with hay.  Can we prove this to be true? We don’t know that there was hay in that manger. There might have been, but we really don’t know. Did Mary need hay? She had come prepared – that we know because she wrapped Him in swaddling clothes.
  6. There were cattle in the stable/cave. Really? Scripture doesn’t mention animals being there. There might have been.We know there was a manger, but we don’t know that this stable was being used for animals.
  7. The angels sang in the sky. Did they sing, or did they talk? Maybe they sang. But we can’t prove it. We do know that scripture says the angel was joined by a multitude praising God and saying “Glory to God in the highest . . .  . . . “
  8. There were 3 wise men. We don’t know that for sure. We know that three different gifts were brought and presented to the Christ child: Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Nowhere does scripture tell us that there were only three wise men who traveled from the East.
  9. The wise men visited the baby in the stable. (The same place where the shepherds visited and worshiped.) Not true at all. The wise men spent months traveling to find this Child. Mary birthed her Baby in the stable because there wasn’t room for them in the Inn. They didn’t stay there long, of that we are certain because they settled into Bethlehem and lived there. When the wise men came, Jesus was a young child.
  10. Jesus was an infant when the wise men arrived in Bethlehem. Nope, He could not have been. By the time the men from the East found the child, He was much older. These men followed the star to the house where the young child  and His mother were. I think Jesus was nearer the age of two years than two months. Why else did Herod have all the babies two years old and younger killed?

While some of these non-verified things could possibly be true, we can’t know for certain. We can suppose that since there was a manger in a stable, hay could have been there. We can suppose that the stable was a home for animals even though we don’t know for certain. Even so, this Christmas I’ll still be singing about “the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay”. I’ll be singing about that beautiful star of Bethlehem. I’ll be singing about the shepherds on a cold, wintry night.

Most importantly, I’ll be singing about the Baby who came for a reason – to be our Savior.

The One Thing That is True

I’ll be remembering that, even though some of our assumed understandings of the Christmas story are inaccurate, what matters most is what Christmas is about. A birth of a Baby, who grew into a Child and then became a Man.

This Holy Child came to die,  so we can live. Now that we know for certain.