Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Tuesday's with Jesus #127

#127 "God With Us"
December 25, 2007
"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" -- which means, "God with us." (Matthew 1: 23)
I heard a story about a woman who was doing her last minute Christmas shopping at a crowded mall. She was tired of fighting the crowds. She was tired of standing in lines. She was tired of fighting her way down long aisles looking for a gift that had sold out days before. Her arms were full of bulky packages when the elevator door opened. It was full. The occupants of the elevator grudgingly tightened ranks to allow a small space for her and her load. As the doors closed, she blurted out, "Whoever is responsible for this whole Christmas thing ought to be arrested, strung up, and shot!" A few others nodded their heads or grunted in agreement. Then, from somewhere in the back of the elevator came a single voice that said, "Don't worry. They already crucified him."
How is that for a stark reminder about Who is responsible for the "whole Christmas thing"? Christmas is all about how God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son so that whoever believes in Him might have eternal life. It is all about the One who existed in the very beginning with God and was God. It is about Jesus...the One who became flesh and made His dwelling among us. He took on human flesh and made His home with us. The One who is called Emmanuel...God with us.
God with us...what does that mean? It means that Christ, the eternal God, came to earth as a man. He didn't just appear to be a man...He became one. He put His feet right here on planet Earth as a man. He walked and talked and ate and cried and laughed. He slept and played with children. He spent time with family and enjoyed His time with friends. God with us. Everything that Christmas means is within that name, Emmanuel...God with us. Not just another baby born in the town of Bethlehem that night. Not just another man walking the dusty roads of Galilee. Jesus was never just another man. He was also God, in the flesh. That is so amazing that we can scarcely take it in. Some can't...others won't..
Those who saw Him with their own eyes...might they have noticed that He was what God is like? His eyes...God's eyes. His ways...God's ways. His hands...the hands of Almighty God. His character...God's. 
God with us means just that...God with us. Not distant. Not walking around in royal robes, even though He IS King of the universe. Not on some earthly throne. He was WITH us. Became one of us. Experienced what we experience. And He didn't send someone else to do the job...He came Himself. 
And He wasn't just God with us in the past tense. God IS with us...Now! Not in some distant external way. God is with you today! Closer than your dearest friend. Closer than your brother or sister. As close as the next beat of your heart and as close as your next breath. God is with us...you and me..intimately.
And He is with us only because of the second half of His story. The part that we seem to overlook at Christmas time. We forget that the baby born in a borrowed stable was later buried in a borrowed tomb. We forget that the baby that was laid in a wooden manger, later was hung and died on a wooden cross at Calvary. We must remember the whole story. Christ lived on this earth, died a horrible death and triumphantly rose from the dead for you and for me. He did this so that we would believe and so that our sins would be forgiven and we would receive a gift more precious than any gift we will receive this Christmas. The gift of eternal life and the gift of Emmanuel, in our hearts. God with us. Right here..right now.
There is so much hurt, so much pain and so much loss in our world today. The Christmas trees and decorations and gifts will not heal any of that hurt or pain or loss. We may be able to gloss over and hide our individual pains and struggles during this season and replace it with presents and an attempt to produce the "perfect" Christmas. But it's only a mask, only a covering up of what our real need is. Our need for a Savior to free us from the bondage of our sins. Our need for a Savior to heal our broken hearts. Our need for Emmanuel...God with us. A God that is with us everyday, not just on December 25th. A God that we acknowledge everyday, not just at Christmas time. A God that came as an indescribable gift, in the person of Jesus Christ, to save us from ourselves and to daily bear our burdens. A child that was born. A Son that was given. One who the prophet Isaiah said would be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace. One who would give us gifts that can never be found in boxes with brightly colored bows on them. Let us not forget Emmanuel this Christmas or any other day for that matter.
The world is a dark place but that same prophet, Isaiah, said that people walking in darkness have seen a great light and on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned. That light is Jesus Christ...the Light of the World. And He is God with me and He is God with you today! Find a still and quiet moment this Christmas week and listen for His still, small voice. Go to Calvary and kneel down at the foot of the Cross and it is there that you will find the meaning of the manger. You'll find Christ this Christmas. "God so loved the world, (and that means YOU), that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." Notice that God "gave". He gave the most precious Gift that He had. For you.
By the time you read this, Christmas Day may have passed. I pray that you had an awesome time with your family. I pray that you shared many treasured moments of love and laughter. But most importantly I pray that you will never, ever forget the Ultimate Gift that you have been given. Emmanuel...God with us. God with you. He is Emmanuel everyday, every hour, 24/7...365. You may be facing the same old problems and struggles and situations that you were facing before the holiday. Know that God is with you, right there where you are. He loves you so much. He is so close to you that if you close your eyes, you might even be able to feel His breath on your face. He can't be found in a package or a gift bag. His brightly colored bow was a crown of thorns on His head. From the manger to the cross, He did it all for you. Emmanuel...God with us.
Merry Christmas,
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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Tuesday's with Jesus #126

#126 "None But Jesus"
December 18, 2007
"Naked a man comes from his mother's womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand." (Ecclesiastes 5: 15)
An estimated 64% of Americans either strongly agree or somewhat agree with the assertion that "there is no such thing as absolute truth." (Christianity Today, September 16, 1991, p. 48, from George Barna, The Barna Report: What Americans Believe, 1991) I would venture to guess that those figures are even higher now that we have turned the millennium. Some reports suggest that even "Born Again Christians" hold this view.
Last Monday evening, I was blessed to spend what turned out to be the last hour of my father's life, with him at his bedside. Within minutes of my leaving, he went home to be with the Lord. The events, circumstances and progression of details that evening, overwhelmed me with how my Heavenly Father loves me so. The knowledge of His love was real, tangible, palpable and concrete. It was "absolute truth."
It was very quiet during that hour we spent together. We had done all of our talking in the last few months leading up to that final night. I stroked his arm and we only spoke a couple of times. I did tell him that I loved him. But as I looked around the room and let my mind wander over the years, I was hit square in the eye with truth...absolute truth.
When all is said and done, there is none but Jesus. Nothing but Jesus. And if you don't have Him, you have nothing. Pretty succinct and to the point. Sorry...but that's absolute truth. My father was a very educated man. But on that night, his Magna Cum Laude from Law School couldn't save him or give him hope for eternity. The money that my parents had acquired at one time was no longer in the bank. The house, the cars, the knick knacks carefully placed in their home, offered no comfort or hope of salvation from this tragic end. I just read this the other day: “you will never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul.” In the words of the Cowardly Lion, "Ain't it the truth...ain't it the truth." Absolute truth.
David said in Psalm 39, "Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: He bustles about, but only in vain." All over the Bible we are told that our lives are like a vapor. Here today, gone tomorrow. More absolute truth. Nevertheless, we continue to pursue, to chase....things that won't ever last, things that won't save us in the end and certainly things that cannot give us any hope for the eternity that starts when we close our eyes for that final time.
People will let you down. Even that husband or wife that you think would never hurt you. Human beings hurt other human beings. Money comes and goes. A job can be lost on a random Friday afternoon leaving you wondering how you're ever going to make it. Houses burn down or get blown away in hurricanes. With just one short visit to the doctor for an annual physical, someone is told that they only have a few months to live. Or in that hour, stroking the arm of your dying loved one, what can we hold onto for dear life? In those kinds of moments...in the midst of gut-wrenching pain and loss, what is there to hold onto? Where is Hope? Where is truth. WHAT is truth?
Pilate asked Jesus, "What is truth?" (John 18: 38) Before Pilate's very eyes stood the One who called Himself, "The Way, THE TRUTH, and the Life." (John 14: 6) But Pilate didn't see it. So many of us don't see it either. But I'm here to tell you today that whether you see it or not...whether you understand it fully or not...it is truth...Absolute Truth...the One called Jesus of Nazareth is the only sure Truth that there is. 
Truth says, "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16: 26) Security, provision, protection, and hope for eternity is only found in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the anchor of our souls when the waves are tossing the boat of our lives to and fro. He is the sure, firm, foundation when the winds of adversity beat and blow against our house. In the words of a well known hymn, "All other ground is shifting sand." He is the fourth man in the midst of the fiery furnace (see Daniel 3). He is the One who rides the white horse and is called "Faithful and True" (see Revelation 19: 11). His face was the face I knew my father would see when he took his last breath on that cold, winter Monday night, only one week ago. Because that's what The Word says. Without that Truth and the certainty of it, what hope could I have ever found as I sat in that room? Without that Truth life is meaningless because He is the meaning of my life. 
Love your family. Enjoy time with friends. Live life to the fullest. Work hard and enjoy restful times. But don't make those things your pursuit. Wise Solomon, after trying every kind of pleasure and avenue to success, said, "Here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man." (Ecclesiastes 12: 13) And I know that if Dad could come back to us for one short minute, he would tell us that there is such a thing as absolute truth...and His Name is Jesus.
Worshiping Christ this Christmas,
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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Tuesday's with Jesus #125

#125 "Broken Wings and Misfit Things"
December 11, 2007
"Jesus heard about it and spoke up, "Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I'm here inviting outsiders, not insiders—an invitation to a changed life, changed inside and out." (Luke 5: 31-32 The Message)
Chuck and I were taking a break from putting up the Christmas tree and I came upon a snow globe with a manger scene inside. Sitting atop the globe is an angel. Because I'm Polish I have wiped and cleaned Ms. Angel so well that in the process I broke both of her wings and her hand. I told Chuck that there must be a message in that pathetic scene. Because my mind works in ways that most people's don't, I then started to think about how my Pastor calls our little congregation "The Church of the Misfit Toys".
In the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the characters visit the "Island of Misfit Toys", an island sanctuary where defective and unwanted toys are sent.  Here they meet "King Moonracer", a lion with wings, "Misfit Elephant" who has polka dots, a misfit cowboy who rides an ostrich and a train with square wheels on its caboose. There's a toy boat that sinks rather than floats; a squirt gun that shoots grape jelly; a bird with the characteristics of a fish who swims instead of flies, an airplane that can't fly and a bear that rides a bike. Misfits indeed. Defective and unwanted. Do those two words in any way, shape or form, describe your church? According to Jesus, they should.
Jesus tells us that it's the sick who need a doctor. That He calls the outsiders...not the perfect, beautiful people. Those who have been labeled, rejected and discarded. Those who most of society have written off as useless and untouchable. Remember the upstanding words of the Pharisees? "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" Might I paraphrase and say, "Why do you hang out with the misfits?" I don't know about you, but it seems to me that Jesus prefered those misfits to those who seemed to have it all together. I think He called them a brood of vipers. 
My very favorite Misfit Toy has to be Hermey the Misfit Elf. Hermey prefers studying dentistry to making toys. He has a dream and a vision locked up on the inside of him, just screaming to come out. Does that resonate with anyone out there? You have a passion deep down in your spirit and you're frustrated because you don't seem to be able to work it out in the natural. You know who you were made to be on the inside, but life goes on without ever seeing your dream come to pass. Maybe you feel out of place in your own skin, because there is so much more being birthed in the inner man than what seems to be happening on the outside.  
Or what about "Charlie-In-The-Box"? He looks like a normal jack-in-the-box, but he was misnamed. What have people named you? Even though I have not practiced as a registered nurse for over 20 years, my mother always feels the need to introduce me as her daughter, "the RN". I guess that brings her more pride than the fact that I'm a Bible teacher and that I speak and preach. Go figure!  For whatever reason, she doesn't want to know who I really am. What about you? Has someone named you "poor", "weak", "stupid", "fat" or "ugly"?  Do you look normal on the outside, but have deep wounds on the inside from what you've been named by other people?
Misfits, discards...flawed and rejected. Tossed out like yesterday's newspaper because we just don't fit in. At least the toys were fortunate enough to be taken to a place where everybody had a problem. Their mixture of defects all blended together and allowed them to function in their own individual ways. On the "Island of Misfit Toys". Wish we had a place like that! But wait, we do! Right smack in the middle of the Body of Christ.
The apostle Paul writes this in 1 Corinthians 1: 27-29: "But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him." God chose the "misfits". He didn't just get stuck with us...He chose us. The verb "chose" means that God selected us from a number of possibilities. He picked us by preference. He preferred, wanted and desired the "foolish, weak, lowly and despised things" of the world. And He puts us together like a beautiful needlepoint picture. On the back are all the flaws and ties and cuttings, but to the viewer's eye the picture is magnificent. The Body of Christ, made out of "misfit toys", is magnificent to behold!
Back to my angel....She inspires me to fulfill my calling with broken dreams, broken wings and broken hands. God can use me in spite of my flaws and weaknesses. And He can use you too. I will sit atop the "manger" and proclaim the highest, greatest, sweetest Name that I know, the Name of Jesus Christ...broken wings and all. I may be a "misfit", but I'm HIS "misfit". So are you...and He loves us best!
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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Tuesday's with Jesus #124

#124 "What's It All About?"
December 4, 2007
"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." (Matthew 6: 33)
I penned this "Tuesday's with Jesus" last December, as the Christmas season was bearing down upon us. I remember that the message touched so many, and as I thought about what to write today, I think these words bear repeating. Over the past year the "Tuesday's" list has more than doubled in size and I really want those of you who didn't receive this message in 2006, to enjoy it today. Many things have changed over the last 365 days. I have watched my 50th, Jubilee Year of life, truly bring restoration, release and renewal in many areas. "Living the Word Ministries" was born in 2007 and promises to be more than I am humanly able to accomplish without Christ. So I hold on to Him for dear life! I am still continually humbled and deeply honored to serve you. As with any year of our lives, 2007 has been filled with much joy and heartfelt tears, fears and failures, deep sorrow and great blessing. I'm sure that it's been that way for you too. Life changes, doesn't it? Sometimes in an instant. We never know what each day will hold. To everything there is a season.... But in every season, every shifting of the winds' direction, and in every belly laugh and every deep gut-wrenching cry, there is One Who never changes. And that is the timeless message that I so want to share with you. So get a cup of hot cocoa, pull up a seat and enjoy ... one year later, I am still so in love with Him!   
According to Garbage Magazine, Americans used 28,497,464 rolls and sheets of wrapping paper, 16,826,362 packages of tags and bows, 372,430,684 greeting cards, and 35,200,000 Christmas trees during the 1989 Christmas season. I can just imagine what the numbers are now. The National Retail Federation projects that $457.4 billion will be spent on the "winter holidays" -- including Christmas -- this year. What's it all about?
Chuck and I had mixed feelings this weekend as we were decorating our home for Christmas. We just weren't into it so much this year. As we pulled the boxes out of storage, I began to look at all that we've accumulated over the years. Mind you, I pitched a lot of it a few years ago. It's amazing how it grows again! Some of it was junk that ended up in a bag for either donation or the trash. Haven't decided yet. Other things held dear memories. Like a picture frame that I received from a homeless man one year when we were coordinating a shelter program. He was so proud of the gift that he gave me, even though I'm quite sure a certain store at Macomb Mall lost some money that year. There was "The Night Before Christmas" book that I read to my children each Christmas Eve before Chuck would read the Bible passages from Matthew or Luke. They're too old for that now, but maybe one day I'll read it for the grandkids. So I hung on to that one. As I was decorating the tree, I was able to look at ornaments made by my children when they were small. Those are precious to me. Paper ornaments with their pictures on them brought a smile to my face. Other ornaments have been gifts received from family and friends over the years. Those made me smile as well. These are important things; children, family, friends, my husband.
The space under my tree is empty. It is awaiting the brightly colored, ribboned packages that will soon be placed there. A part of me wishes that it could stay empty. The true meaning of what we celebrate is not found in those packages. The meaning is in the simple manger that I placed under the tree. The truth of the One who was born in a borrowed stable and was buried in a borrowed tomb. The truth of the One who was laid in a wooden manger and died on a wooden cross. This is what my heart is full of this year. The gift that God, my Father, gave to me, in His precious Son, Jesus Christ. I wish my tree would remain empty except for all of my children sitting around it, each one claiming Jesus as their Lord and Savior.  
Maybe it's because I'm getting older. My husband hates when I say this, but I've lived more years of my life than I have left. Maybe it's because in the past month or so, I've been acutely aware and grieved over different people, problems and situations that have come across my path. In the last week alone, I've been asked to pray for sickness and disease, relationship restoration, people divorcing, people dying. There was one day where honestly, I told the Lord I didn't think I could pray for anyone else. It was sucking the life out of me. On Friday morning, it was pouring rain..literally beating against my windows while it was still dark and I was trying to pray and read the Word. I felt like there was just a blanket of evil over everything...Satan overcoming the world it would seem. Of course, when I focused on the Word, the voice of truth let me know that the world had not spun out of control and that God was still sovereign and in charge. Nevertheless, it still made all the Christmas trappings seem very meaningless to me.
So like the loving, wonderful Father that He is, my Abba sent His word to me right in the middle of my half- put- together Christmas tree and all my boxes. I pulled out a beautiful crystal frame in which I had placed a greeting card front a few years ago. I had forgotten about it. As it brought tears to my eyes, it brought peace to my heart. It reminded me "what this was all about" and I want to share it with you.
"If you look for me at Christmas, you won't need a special star - I'm no longer just in Bethlehem, I'm right there where you are. You may not be aware of Me amid the celebrations - You'll have to look beyond the stores and all the decorations. But if you take a moment from your list of things to do, and listen to your heart, you'll find I'm waiting there for you. You're the one I want to be with, you're the reason that I came, and you'll find Me in the stillness as I'm whispering your name. Love, Jesus."
That frame, with that simple message is my favorite decoration this year. If it were up to me, it would be the only one. But since I have children and they enjoy the decorations and the presents and the cookies, I will keep pressing on. But now my heart is filled with the answer to my question, "what's it all about?"  I will find quiet moments and go to Calvary. And there I'll kneel with those who know the meaning of the manger, and find the Christ, this Christmas. I will praise the one who would one day be executed for my crime. That, my friend, is what it's all about!
May you find Christ this Christmas,
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