Evil Days Call for Wise Living. Are The Days Still Evil? Do You Live Wisely?

Here’s some advice as we get ready for a brand new year: “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is… always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:15-20 NIV)

Before Paul says we should always be thankful, he tells us to live wisely because the days are evil. We are starting a brand New Year, but are we really starting with a clean slate? In a day characterized by wars and political strife, dishonest leadership, licentious sexual practices, and rampant sexual abuse by men in government, Paul certainly understood evil days. Christians and gladiators were killed in the Colosseum for entertainment; men celebrated homosexuality and even kept young boys as concubines, and racial and social discrimination were rampant everywhere. Evil was so common it didn’t even make front-page headlines in the pagan Roman-occupied world. (Wait, what? Did all that sound familiar?)

As for the other part of his statement, are you living wisely? Would you look at your life and say that you make pretty wise choices? That question is really a little more difficult than it seems. Where do find your wisdom? If there was a Book of Wisdom, would you read it? How much wisdom are you exposed to every day? What type of wisdom are you counting on when you have to make choices? (Remember, Eve ate the apple partly because she saw that it imparted wisdom…there are some things the world counts as wise that really aren’t.

Paul draws that distinction about the world’s view of the cross in 1 Corinthians 1:18-20 when he quotes Isaiah 29:14, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”). In the Biblical definition, true wisdom only comes from God—and if it isn’t godly, it isn’t good…

Do you know what Proverbs says about wisdom? What Jesus taught? What James said? Do you subjugate your temporary needs for long-term results? Do you seek first what God wants, or what YOU want? There is a lot to consider. Here in Ephesians, Paul also says we should understand what the Lord’s will is. How does one gain understanding of THAT? In Romans 12:2 he offers a clue when he says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

God’s will won’t be found in the world’s values. It resides in spiritual insights that only come from the renewal of your mind. Tell me, what will you be doing in 2020 to renew your mind with wisdom? I’ll finish this thought by asking two questions: First, do you think the days still qualify as evil?

devil evil    evil legalism kills

Put another way, are men in 2020 still as selfish, evil, and corrupt as they were when Paul wrote those words in the first century AD? (If you consider the hatred and lack of integrity on BOTH sides of American politics, the rise of ISIS as a murderous pseudo-religious state, the racism that still exists across our planet, and the genocide CURRENTLY TAKING PLACE in Somalia, Burundi, Iraq, Myanmar, Sudan, and Nigeria, the answer is fairly obvious).

With that in mind, the second question is: Do you understand what the Lord’s will is for you? Chances are, if the answer is yes to the first question, it’s even more important to be able to answer the second one.

Hindsight is 2020

The days were evil, way back when, and the world was full of evil men
Who violated public trust and loved to exercise their lust.
He didn’t put it into rhyme, but Paul said to redeem the time,
To live in wisdom every day, prepared for what would come your way.
Today, the calendar has moved but men have really not improved!
So… Are you ready? Are you wise? Can you see evil in disguise?
Can you see things through Wisdom’s eyes?
We live in a fallen world that’s evil still.
Be wise, and live within the Father’s will.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Man Was the Word, The Word Was Man: The Perspective That Changes Everything

Yesterday we discussed John’s claim that the Word was God. Certainly that claim had universal and cosmic implications, but those subjects were already being debated in divinity schools… The word was far above man, pre-existent, eternal, ephemeral, the essence of the divine Godhead, mysterious and unknowable.

In verse 12, however, John seems to take a radically different tack, one that changed the game entirely. He claimed that the Word became a Man. He said: And the word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” It may seem crazy to some that a man claims to be god; it is even crazier to think that God would claim to be a man. And yet Jesus often referred to himself as the Son of Man, a prophetic reference from Ezekiel.

John’s insights about the “Word made flesh” (about Jesus) in his Gospel’s introduction are pretty compelling. Not only does he connect the dots to say that Jesus was God, and was preexistent from the beginning, he identifies Jesus as the Creator: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:3 NIV)

Since Jesus was not just a man, John illustrates what that means. As the Word, Jesus was the creative part of God’s personality. “God SAID, Let there be light, and there was light.” God spoke the universe into existence. Jesus was literally the Word who created this universe, the heavens, and this world…This is an area that I think we humans might have a hard time grasping in all of its implications, both spiritually and emotionally. As the preexistent creative personality of God, Jesus spoke, energized and framed the cosmos into existence. Colossians 1:17 says “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Jesus, the word incarnate, came to earth as a mere man and lived upon the planet he had made.

The earth and all that had sprung from it were his creation, the expression of his creative power and intent. How do you think he sometimes felt, walking upon the very earth he had spoken into existence? Sitting under a tree to find protection from the sun he had made? Looking up and identifying the stars at night? Drinking cold water after a dusty walk? I’d bet that the strongest maternal instinct would pale in comparison to the intimacy Jesus felt with his creation…

man

And on the other side of that equation, do you think that fallen man’s mistreatment of it, and of each other, ever broke his heart? As he saw the selfishness, the cruelty, the tragedy in his world, do you think he ever thought, this is not what I intended? That I will do whatever it takes to fix this? (Hmmm, does he ever say that just looking into your heart?)

The Word made flesh—which is the Advent, which is Christmas—means that he came to earth and literally became part of his own creation to do something about it regardless of the immeasurable cost. We should live, then, as he intended. Perhaps it would help if we saw the world around us through His eyes, if we appreciated it with His love… It might help us to look beyond the commercial Capitalist Christmas or the selfish shopper who stole my parking space. This Christmas season and in this coming New Year, put on your Holiday glasses of grace and see the world the way its Creator saw it, the way he intended it to be. And while you’re at it, look at yourself the same way, with more than a mother’s matchless love. If you think Jesus loved his creation, then imagine how he feels about YOU. See? There really are good tidings of great joy at Christmas!

The Son of Man

Of all the things that men have said,
The one that makes you scratch your head
Is John’s assertion that the Cosmic plan
Involves Almighty God becoming man.
How ludicrous that claim must be!
Why, any fool could clearly see
That God’s incredible, matchless worth
Would never limit itself to earth!
But if He did… what things would He must have felt!
What air he breathed! And when he stooped and knelt
To touch the grass, to break an earthen clod:
What did he think– the Word, Creator, God?
Surely he enjoyed what he had made–
A cold refreshing drink beneath the shade,
Laughter where the children ran and played;
The sunsets, with His handiwork displayed…
Surely he loved creation more than most;
He knew far better all that had been lost:
Knew its value, and He knew the cost.
He knew the covenants, knew they’d not been kept;
He stood above Jerusalem, and wept.
And then this God– this Galilean Jew
Gave up his life to rescue me. And you.
I wonder– the Bible never makes this clear–
Did He miss heaven more when he came down here,
Or after all He’d said, and seen, and done,
Did He miss us as much when He went home?

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Logos: A Quick Word About it Doesn’t Do It Justice

In his Prologue to his Gospel, John said that the Word (logos) was God! Did anybody understand what he meant? Have you ever thought about what it means? Take a quick look at it and give it some thought today…

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1 NIV) Where Matthew and Luke provide historical and genealogical context for Jesus’ arrival, John’s gospel explores the theological implications… He starts his gospel by describing the Word in cosmic terms that transcend time and space, terms that offer no equivocation or apology.

The idea of the logos, or true word, had been floating around philosophical circles for several centuries. (You might stop and consider that it’s still a major concept even in our “modern” world–we currently use logo as the personification of a Brand, or a symbol that fully represents a product or company.) But back then, Heraclitus used the term as a principle for order and knowledge as early as 500 BC. Sophists like Aristotle used it to describe discourse, and Stoics believed it was “the divine animating principle pervading the universe”. Philo (20 BC-AD 50) was a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher and contemporary of John’s who adopted it into Jewish philosophy.

John logos

It’s hard to adequately describe to 21st century America how dynamic and pervasive this connection really is linguistically, philosophically, or theologically, because logos is such a broad connective concept. Read simply as “the Word” in the English language, all of these uses and definitions fail to capture or describe the full breadth of meaning behind logos, which conveyed generative force and dynamic thought to first century users. John takes this word, however and gives it a unique application that changed and challenged everything.

He says in 1:14 that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…” This connects Jesus to John’s opening sentence, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” This is one of the most insightful and important sentences ever written. It provides cohesion and context for the Christ’s place in the Bible, and presents Jesus as the incarnate word who connects the Old Testament with the New.

Consider these connections: The Pentateuch opens with, “in the beginning, GOD…” So does John’s Gospel. Moses said, “God created”. So did the Word. In the Genesis account, God created through the word…” John says, “all things were made through” the logos.. (As an aside, when it comes to creation, I find it fascinating that adherents of a Big Bang theory can leap by assumption to a very complex set of conditions that are based on preexisting elements which were NOT recorded or observable. They contend that things happened randomly but exactly in a certain way at the beginning of all things—and they can hold this position in face of incredibly long odds in terms of actual probability—and then they can turn around and be critical of a hypothesis that rationally assumes a preexistent God, with creation and origin coming from the one who already existed in the beginning, and who expressed himself creatively. That kind of assumptive science is faith of a sort, at best; but it is scientific hypocrisy, at worst…)

John talks about the Word who was with God and who WAS God. The Greek syntax where John says “the Word was God” is such that the two parts are identical and interchangeable: the Word = God, and God = the Word.

There is no ambiguity about Jesus’ identity in either this statement or in the other Gospels… Matthew connects Jesus’ birth to the Messiah who had long been foretold. Luke connects Jesus to mankind by tracing his genealogy back to Adam, and John? Well, he connects Jesus to God. If those connections are correct, then Jesus wasn’t just a Jewish prophet, and he wasn’t just a good man: he was God. That’s not just a good word, it is THE Word. Always has been. Always will be.

The Word
The universe was not a bang or something that just occurred,
But cosmic energy released within the spoken word.
“In the beginning was The Word.” John said this long before
Eternity past created what the future holds, and more…
Eons can be relative, and time may seem to plod,
But the Word transcended time and space because the Word was God.
That Word, John said, became a man, and we beheld his glory,
His execution of the plan to tell redemption’s story.
Of all the things you’ve read and out of everything you’ve heard,
Consider this: the Word was God. And Jesus was the Word.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

John Wrote About the Word of God; Mary Obeyed It. What do YOU Think about It?

Ever since I became aware enough to consider such things, I have always thought that the first few sentences of the Gospel of John are possibly the most significant sentences ever written in Western civilization. They tie Jesus of Nazareth to the Ancient Hebrew Scriptures, to Greek thought and philosophy, and to the vast boundlessness of eternity in the space-time continuum. If the arrival of Jesus was a historical event, then John connects the cosmic dots about who Jesus was and why he came.

Yesterday’s post said that Mary heard a word from God, quoting the word of God about the Word of God… John said it this way: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-5, 14 NIV)

When Mary said, “Be it unto me according to thy word”, John’s amazing prologue characterizing Jesus as the Word, or the logos, had not yet been written. In this opening paragraph to his gospel, John says that the Word was eternally preexistent, was with God and indeed was God. This Word was the Creator and the source of all life and illumination in the cosmos. John says that the Word came and dwelt among men, who could see its glory.

John

The concept of men receiving the word of the Lord was fairly common in the Old Testament. God’s Spirit moved among men and imparted His words to the prophets, gave instruction, and prophesied about things to come. (Think: Elijah and the prophets of Baal, or Jonah preaching to Nineveh.) God’s word appeared or was given to men for a task or a season, but it was not an abiding presence on the earth.

For instance, 1 Samuel 3:1 says that “the word of the Lord was scarce in those days”. At other times men like Abraham (Genesis 15:1, “The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision”) and Moses, who was “commanded by the word of the Lord” (Numbers 3:16, 51) encountered God’s word in life changing ways. The prophets were moved to speak because of it. “The word of the Lord came to Elijah” (1 Kings 18:1) and Zephaniah 1:1 attributes his prophecy to the word of the Lord. There are well over 200 references to the word of God in the Old Testament, so John’s reference to the Word was not unique in Jewish Scripture; but the idea that the Word could become an actual person and dwell among men was entirely foreign to the Hebrew mind and heritage.

By introducing Christ as the Word, John makes some astounding claims about a man who he knew well– someone he hung out with, traveled with, and observed at close range for at least three years. He walked long hours with Jesus, heard him preach, and saw him in action. If Jesus had been insane or a mere charlatan, John would have known it.

If Jesus had been a failed prophet who was crucified and then disappeared from the scene, then John would have had no reason to write about him… But as we know, John wrote those familiar words which we know as John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Would John have placed all his hopes on a fraud? Think about those whom you know intimately, the folks you joke with or party with; chances are you know them far too well to equate them with God, or to ever consider actually calling them God… Yet John did exactly that with Jesus. Why do you think he did that? Answer THAT question, and I bet you’ll answer a whole bunch of other ones…

The Writer
Youngest disciple, did you know where all the twists and turns would go,
And did you have the line of sight to what would come from what you’d write?
Jesus’ loved one, did you think, when struggling with your pen and ink,
That History hung on every word you wrote of what you’d seen and heard?
Out to a thoughtless, careless world, your personal account was hurled:
The words of a crazy, exiled Jew, who claimed that what he’d seen was true!
Could you have known? Could you have seen the phrasing there, in three sixteen,
And you could somehow sense, or see, down corridors of History,
That someday it would come to me, affecting what my life would be?
Some might say you were misled, or somehow addled in your head,
And some with proud disdain despise your testament, and call it lies…
But some would say you have a friend, whose kingdom’s come, and will not end,
Who showed you love as meant to be, by being who He was sent to be!
Jesus’ Beloved, Apostle John, your words live now, and will live on
For us, from what you saw and heard, and captured in your timeless word:
For all the world—for everyone—God gave his only precious son,
That all who seek Him, and believe, will each eternal life receive.
The perfect love that fell on Thee has fallen, too, on me…

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Unbelievable: The Woman Who Believed In a Preposterous Message

Luke’s narrative about Mary’s conversation with Gabriel described her reaction to some unbelievable news. If you think about it, there is much to learn from Mary’s response to God’s messenger. (And BTW, the Greek word for angel is anggelos, or messenger—simply put, a courier who brings a message, or a word from someone else).

In Mary’s case, she was clearly being given direction from God, and like any of us she could have said, “No”. I guess it’s conceivable that she could have fought against it or rebelled against such a life-changing commission; but she didn’t. In fact, that option is always available to us, isn’t it? Perhaps YOU have heard a message from God yourself lately, or even read one on your own somewhere…Maybe even HERE, reading this: How did you react to it? Was it too unbelievable to believe? I know a lot of people find the virgin birth to be unbelievable. Mary wasn’t one of them.

unbelievable

After she heard what Gabriel had to say, she said, “May your word to me be fulfilled.” His word was this: “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and He will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:31-33, NIV)

Basically, Gabriel brought a word from God, quoting the word of God about the Word of God, and Mary (and Joseph as well) had absolute faith in the message. She affirmed it verbally, and then she lived it obediently. It may have seemed unbelievable on the surface, but Mary believed it and accepted it.

The first-born son was not going to be Bar-Joseph according to custom, but was to be given a name indicative of who he was (a big concession by Joseph, which lends credence to the unusual nature of the Angel’s announcement). Jesus is a shortened form of Joshua, derived from Jehoshuah, which in the Hebrew means “Jehovah is salvation.” Gabriel points to Isaiah 9:6-7, which says “unto us a son is born”, and refers to God’s promise of an eternal throne to David’s line in 2 Samuel 7:12-14.

As Mary listened to his message, she undoubtedly found comfort in the fact that this birth had been foretold…There are in fact over 400 references in the Old Testament that are prophesies connected to Jesus’ birth, life and death. (You can Google that!) They are like hundreds of threads woven in to the Old Testament out of all space and time to create a tapestry of hope, pointing towards Jesus of Nazareth. The authors (Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Micah, Zechariah) wrote independently and without any way of knowing the timing, the person, or the outcome of their books– but their words connected the dots between God’s covenant people and the promised Redeemer.

Let’s say you’re skeptical about that, or just don’t think all four hundred plus prophecies really apply… Maybe that seems unbelievable to you. Even if some of them are a bit of a stretch, or if some of them are hard to connect—let’s say we throw out half of them—wouldn’t you think that someone whose birth and life were foretold by a couple of hundred predictions from centuries before would justify some serious thought?

Those writers certainly didn’t know who Jesus was going to be, or when he would be born, but there were too many uncannily accurate prophecies about Jesus’ arrival to easily dismiss. From the Tribe of Judah. (Micah 5:2) From Jesse’s family (Isaiah 11:1) and David’s line (Jeremiah 23:5-6). Announced by a messenger (Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1). Preceded by a star (Numbers 24:17). Born of a Virgin (Isaiah 7:14). Born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Called Immanuel (God with us) (Isaiah 7:14). Weeping in Ramah (Jeremiah 31:15). Flight to Egypt (Hosea 11:1). He would be worshipped and presented gifts by kings (Psalm 72:10).

Consider this: there is NO other historical figure (including Mohammed and Buddha) whose coming was foretold in such volume and detail, so far in advance. No. One. Since the angel was pretty specific in mentioning these OT quotes in his message to Mary, they at least bear some consideration relative to who Jesus was.

Ok, so why am I talking about the messenger, and the message to Mary? Because when Gabriel made his announcement to her, it was also a message to everyone who would come after. It was a message to me. It was a message to you as well. It seems we all have the same choice before us that Mary had: we can believe the word of the messenger, and then live differently because of it; or we can dismiss it, and go on as if nothing had happened. I think something happened. If Gabriel’s word was fulfilled, as Mary hoped and affirmed, then it’s worth looking into.

The Angel and the Virgin

What Gabriel said to Mary must have scared her through and through;
As unbelievable as it seemed, the picture that he drew
Affected Mary’s very life! But she did what she needed to.
Well, what if Gabriel’s message, then, was also meant for YOU?
What about the prophecy and things that men foreknew?
Would it change anything if you believed that it was true?

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Nativity Scenes are Lovely; Could it Be that They Are All WRONG??

Here’s a Christmas news flash: Most Nativity Scenes are WRONG! It’s not a deal-breaker, but if you check the Scriptural accounts of the details around Jesus’ birth you’ll find that the traditional Nativity sets depict a scene that never occurred…

Luke describes this pastoral scene, out in the fields: “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.” (Luke 2:8, NIV) Matthew, though, refers to the wise men here: “And when they [the wise men] had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him.” (Matthew 2:11, NIV)

I’ve always loved the nativity scenes, with the animals, shepherds and wise men gathered around the manger honoring the baby Jesus, while an angel hovers over the stable as Joseph and Mary look on… The problem is, that scene never happened. The traditional nativity scenes are based on a couple of different events that took place at least several months and possibly up to two years apart, each with a different location and set of players. I guess you could say that Nativity scenes are Cliff Notes’ representations that portray both events together… The only group who made it to the manger area out behind the inn when Jesus was born were the shepherds.

nativity

Interestingly, the place where the angels appeared to the shepherds is traditionally known as the “Tower of the Flock,” or Migdal Edar, which is very near Bethlehem. That pasture had a birthing place for lambs called the manger, and if that was where Mary delivered her baby, it creates some very interesting connections. The lambs born there and the animals kept there were likely sheep destined for sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem. It stands to reason that these Shepherds would have known a LOT about unblemished lambs and sacrifice, since they were usually guarding lambs who were on their way to be sacrificed at the Temple. (Pretty thoughtful of God to connect those dots for us, isn’t it?)

Luke says the angel appeared to the shepherds out in the fields. Once they got over their fright somewhere out in the Judean countryside, the shepherds did indeed stop by the manger in Bethlehem; but it was shortly AFTER being visited by an angel. (That angel, by the way, was joined by a host of other Angels who sang in celebration.) So, contrary to most Nativity scenes, it wasn’t a single angel, it was many; and the angel didn’t go into town with the Shepherds to the manger.

It says in Luke 2:15 that the Angels “went back into heaven.” The shepherds went into town on their own, where they found “Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.” They were pretty fired up when they realized that something pretty big was going on, and that they were part of it! Luke 2:20 says they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” The shepherds, it seems, have a lot in common with us. They are ordinary folks. They heard some really good news. They had a choice: ignore the news, stay out in the fields, and just go on with their lives as if nothing had happened; or they could believe the message, go and find out more about this baby, and meet him face to face. You have the same information the shepherds did, and the exact same choice. Something pretty big is going on. Be part of it.

Nativity Relativity

Nativity scenes are quite profound,
With shepherds and Magi gathered ’round,
Adoring Jesus, meek and mild…
The angel greets this new-born child
With Mary and Joseph and all the rest.
But it doesn’t pass the Bible test!
Just look at the Nativity:
It isn’t accurate history,
And if you give it scrutiny
You’ll find it’s more of a summary.
And that’s ok, just get it right:
Some history was made that night
And all of those events occurred,
Just not the way you’ve always heard.
The shepherds on the hillside heard
The Angel speak his glorious word,
Then ran to town without delay
To where the baby Jesus lay.
That’s when the angels came to sing
Of Glory to the Newborn King!
The Magi visited later on,
So most Nativity scenes are wrong…
Before your nose gets out of joint,
I’m not being critical; here’s my point:
I’m not saying it’s kinda lame
That the Nativity scene is not the same;
The important thing is, Jesus came!
Although it may lack accuracy,
The scene at the Nativity has elements of history
Presented as a summary.
Nativity scenes may not be totally factual,
But Jesus came. That truth is totally actual.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Mary Had to Make a Choice; But Really, Doesn’t Everybody?

Mary was called by God to perform a unique mission. On the surface she did the logical thing and seemed to make the obvious choice; So why Doesn’t Everybody Do it?

The last woman mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy is the most obvious one: “and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.” (Matthew 1:16, NIV). Mary lived a remarkable life, and was certainly a remarkable young woman. With all of the legend and adulation that has grown up around her, all of the Da Vinci code supposition and mystery, she is surely the most revered woman in history. From our vantage point, there is not all that much in the Bible to go on in terms of getting to know her, but she seems to be a fairly normal, if somewhat more devout girl of her times.

Mary and the Angel

She was chosen for a mission that rearranged her life in the most uncomfortable ways possible—pregnant and possibly disgraced on the cusp of her nuptials, targeted by gossips and disapproving eyes, forced to go live with her cousin in the hill country…
Not everything was easy and glorious for Mary. Even years later, the Pharisees, arguing with Jesus about his paternity, sneered, “WE are not illegitimate children!” (John 8:41), so Mary’s predicament in being pregnant outside of marriage was obviously public knowledge, and the story followed Jesus into adulthood.

It may be hard to see from this side of history, on this side of the veneration and adulation of Mary, but at one time she was a simple village girl from Nazareth who was visited by a messenger who had a word from God. She was fearful and a bit skeptical (you can read about it in Luke 1), but after weighing her options and resolving her questions, said to Gabriel: “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38)

It strikes me that this answer probably contains pretty good clues about attitude for all of us when life throws us a curve ball. First, remember who God is and who we are. Mary calls herself “the Lord’s servant”, meaning that when she calls God, “Lord”, she means it. He is above her, and she is willing and ready to put him first, even in some crazy circumstances. I’d see this as a good attitude for us to have when life gives us unexpected difficulties.

It probably helped Mary to have an angel deliver God’s Word, but we aren’t off the hook on that one, since we have the Word at our disposal 24/7. We can whine, “God didn’t give me a message!”—but maybe it’s been available to us all along and we just haven’t read it. Has God sent you a messenger lately? Are you listening?

Second, she is obedient to God. No protest, no argument. A puzzled question about logistics, but that’s it. Mark Lowry sang and shared in our worship service, and humorously suggested that Mary might have asked Gabriel, “Do you think you might stop by my parents’ room on the way out and maybe let them know?”

But she said, “May your word to me be fulfilled.” (I love the King James, “Be it unto me according to Thy Word.”) I’d suggest that if all of us took TODAY, and prayed this little prayer–“May your Word to me be fulfilled”– (and meant it), we’d have a different outlook, and a different kind of day. And if we did it EVERY day, we’d have a different kind of life. Mary certainly did: not by magic, or even by angelic proclamation, but by obedience and faith. This Christmas day, you are faced with the same opportunity Mary had. Those are the tools. Here is your day.

The Choice

Christmas is a happy time, so full of joy and giving!
It is a time of hope, reminding us that life’s worth living!
We all enjoy the lovely sights of mistletoe and Christmas lights,
And gathering with family to eat our Christmas-time delights.
We watch our favorite Christmas movie features on TV,
And marvel at the stack of presents underneath the tree!
But tell, me as you think of Christmas (maybe with some snow!),
And shop for presents dodging Christmas traffic as you go,
Would there be a Santa, would there be some mistletoe?
What would our world be like today if Mary had just said, “No”?
If Mary said no, this world would be a totally different place,
Without our Christmas giving, and with far less hope and grace.
If she said no, our world would hold more shame and more disgrace.
Well, what if YOU said “No” to God? What difference would there be?
What grace and hope would future generations fail to see?
What priceless gifts would languish under history’s Christmas tree?
Mary changed the world by saying “Yes” to God’s request;
But what if God called all of us, and ALL of us said yes?
You know how God used Mary’s “yes”; I guess you know the rest…

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Merit Doesn’t Save You and Mistakes Don’t Condemn You: Christmas News Worth Reading

This genealogy we’ve been following proves that the salvation brought by Jesus as the Messiah is not a Merit System…

The fourth woman named in Matthew’s genealogy isn’t really ever named outright, but we know who she is. He says, “David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.” (Matt 1:6) Out of all the royal wives in Israel’s history, Bathsheba was always connected to Israel’s greatest king, and to the king’s greatest sin—and yet it was she who was chosen to carry the line of the Messiah. Based on her reputation, she doesn’t seem to merit inclusion into Christ’s genealogy. (After all, she motivated David to commit adultery and murder, didn’t she?)

Perhaps her name was so tarnished that Matthew couldn’t bring himself to say it. Perhaps, unlike a Ruth or a Rahab, she was unworthy somehow. (This is another one of those accurate details that a more polished narrative would have glossed over somehow. Unlike in today’s politics, the Bible keeps telling the truth when a lie would work so much better…) David had other sons by other wives, and yet Bathsheba’s son Solomon bore the royal lineage. Why did God choose her and him?

merit

Two things: first, Bathsheba was more than just a pretty face. She was apparently a pretty shrewd player in palace politics. When Adonijah (not her son) proclaimed himself to be king, she risked her own life to present her case to the aged and infirm King David: “Bathsheba bowed down, prostrating herself before the king. “What is it you want?” the king asked. She said to him, “My lord, you yourself swore to me your servant by the Lord your God: ‘Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he will sit on my throne.’ But now Adonijah has become king, and you, my lord the king, do not know about it.” (1 Kings 1:16-18 NIV)

Bathsheba brought in the powerful prophet Nathan as an ally, and David confirmed his oath to make Solomon King. Without her brazen resolve, who knows if Solomon would have gained the throne? Or lived another day? In the midst of dangerous and volatile circumstances, she asked the king to keep his promises. Perhaps that is something all of us should do… Next time you are in difficult circumstance, prostrate yourself before the King and ask for His promises! If you ask the right kind of king, I bet you get the right kind of response…

Second, I am kinda glad that someone who was connected to such terrible and far-reaching mistakes (David and Bathsheba aren’t the only ones in the genealogy who qualify, by the way) still made this list. It’s not a merit system. The Messiah does not judge you by your mistakes or even your merit. Smack in the middle of a legalistic and self-righteous world of religious intolerance, God brought a Messiah who saved people from sin, rather than merely condemning them for it.

If you have been less than perfect, if you have committed egregious errors, and even if your mistakes have had gut-wrenching and far-reaching consequences, take heart. Jesus understands that stuff because it’s all over the place in his family tree. And he said this: “For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13 NIV) Good Christmas news for Bathsheba and David. Good news for Solomon. And very good news for us.

The Good News: God Can Use Sinners

A man of passion, power and might,
The jaded king would find the sight
Of a naked beauty he did not know
An utterly enticing show…
So David called Bathsheba in;
Temptation led to secret sin:
Clandestine meetings, broken trust
And finally, to murderous lust!
And yet these sins, and this disgrace
Did not prevent unfailing Grace,
Or let this evil undermine
The course of the Messiah’s line…
If you look through it, you can see
In Matthew’s genealogy
Imperfect folks like you and me.
From sinners, God made history!
From folks who knew of sin and shame,
The heavenly Messiah came!
Perfection, this Bathsheba missed:
But by God’s Grace, she made this list.
Though Matthew doesn’t say her name,
The world through her would never be the same.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Kinsman Redeemer was a Man Who Changed Ruth’s Life. He changed Yours, too, by the Way

Following the story of Ruth’s amazing loyalty to Naomi, there is a question I know you are asking yourself: how did a kinsman redeemer change history? (And if you are not asking that, then I’ll just ask it for both of us.)

Ruth’s declaration of love and loyalty didn’t keep Naomi from feeling despair at first. She was still a widow, and she was still grieving over the loss of her sons. Everything in her life had changed, and even Ruth’s sweetness could not compensate for the fact she had lost everything. She told her friends that they should change her name to Mara (bitter), “because the almighty has made my life very bitter…” They returned to Bethlehem in time for the harvest, and Ruth went to work as a peasant in the fields of a man named Boaz.

kinsman

When Ruth told Naomi that she had met Boaz, and that he had spoken kindly to her, Naomi said, “The Lord bless him! He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers.” (Ruth 2:20, NIV) OT law stipulated that the nearest kinsman would offer to marry a brother’s widow and carry on his name, to offer redemption to relatives sold into slavery, and to avenge the killing of a relative.

You think there is drama in YOUR family? Imagine what types of unusual human interaction might have taken place under some of those circumstances! A brother-in-law might think his brother’s widow is too ugly to marry. Or, like Onan with Tamar, he might use her without fulfilling his obligation. Or an opportunistic redeemer might take advantage of those too helpless to avoid him (think: Evil Stepmother in Cinderella)

But a good kinsman-redeemer offered hope, offered help to the helpless, and a chance to live a life changed by redemption. A kinsman-redeemer bought you back out of slavery or hopelessness and adopted you into his family. (Hmmm, just like the Messiah was going to do…)

In this case, Boaz is a kind, godly man who respects Ruth and protects her reputation even when she follows Naomi’s advice: she makes herself vulnerable by crawling into bed with the sleeping Boaz and warming his feet (which could have been interpreted as an act of service OR the actions of a loose woman). Not only does he treat her with respect but he goes on to observe all the requirements of the law with scrupulous honesty and transparency to the elders in the village, and he makes Ruth his wife in front of God and everybody. The Elders were prophetic when they said, “Through the offspring the Lord gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.” (Ruth 4:12)

Sure enough, Ruth and Boaz’ son Obed was King David’s grandfather. Still very close to her mother-in-law, Ruth allowed Naomi to act as his nurse, giving her a family again. So what did the women of the village say about to Naomi about Ruth? The highest praise: “Your daughter-in-law, who loves you… is better to you than seven sons.” These two widows went from bitter circumstances to the comforting house of their kinsman-redeemer. Boaz’s kindness redeemed both Ruth and Naomi, and changed their lives forever. Through the line of David and down through Jesus, He also changed ours, too, by the way…

Ruthless is No Way to Live

A widow who was destitute was working in the field
Picking up the scraps after the workers took the yield.
The owner saw her beauty and integrity revealed,
And watched her do her job with admiration unconcealed.
He had to find out who she was as soon as he had seen her;
Some owners might abuse her, or they might just treat her meaner,
But he found out that he was nearest kinsman and redeemer;
He decided then that he would pay for and redeem her.
He spoke with all the village elders, and he made it known
That he would take this widow and reclaim her as his own.
He also said Naomi wouldn’t have to be alone,
Since he was taking both of them to live within his home.
Ruth and Boaz raised a son, and Obed was his name.
Obed had a boy named Jesse; then some Grandsons came.
David killed Goliath, and he rose to wealth and fame,
And through his life, the entire world has never been the same!
You may not be famous, but I know this is the truth:
The Lord may change the world through YOU, just like He did with Ruth.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Loyalty so Stubborn That It Led to a Surprising Redemption

Not all of the women mentioned in the Messiah’s line were prostitutes. Matthew’s genealogy refers next to a grieving widow, two destitute women, and the touching story of how a young woman’s stubborn loyalty led to surprising redemption.

The third woman mentioned in Matthew 1:5 is Ruth, a young woman from Moab who married a man from Bethlehem. Moabites descended from Abraham’s nephew Lot, so they were somewhat akin to Israel, even though they worshipped other gods and fought wars with Saul, David and Solomon.

The four Chapter book of the Bible bearing her name, which was set in the period of the Judges, tells how both her father-in-law and her husband died, and she faced the harsh reality of living in a somewhat primitive masculine culture without any male protection. Her mother-in-law (Naomi) told her and her sister-m-law Orpah to go on and return back to their own people and their gods. Naomi reasoned that her own prospects for marriage were nonexistent (which certainly guaranteed her household a life of poverty), and so she told Ruth that she should go back to her own people, find herself a husband, and make a new life. It was the practical thing to do.

Orpah agreed and went home. But Ruth made a decision that changed everything. She decided to stay with Naomi.
Ruth’s statement to her mother-in-law after making this decision is one of the most oft-quoted Old Testament statements about love and loyalty:

“And Ruth said,
Entreat me not to leave thee,
or to return from following after thee:
for whither thou goest I will go,
and where thou lodgest, I will lodge;
thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:
where thou diest, I will die, and there will I be buried.
The Lord do so to me, and more also,
if aught but death part thee and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17, NKJV)
Rather than returning to her own people, Ruth expressed such love for Naomi that she was willing to stay by her side even though they faced hardship and a very questionable future.

loyalty

Ruth’s story takes an amazing turn when, while gathering leftover ears of grain, following the reapers, she is noticed by Boaz, the owner of the field. Boaz was a kinsman of Naomi’s deceased husband, and custom allowed destitute relatives to gather leftover scraps of the harvest in order to survive. Naomi seems to know something of Boaz, and she may have had more than a little bit of a scheme going on by getting Ruth into Boaz’ field. By the same token, Boaz is aware of Ruth’s loyalty to Naomi, and very favorably impressed not only by this familial loyalty but by Ruth herself.
This love story has a beautiful ending as Ruth and Naomi are rescued from poverty when Boaz, acting in his role as a kinsman redeemer, pays the costs to secure the right to marry Ruth and start a family. Naomi actually exercised some feminine wiles to help facilitate the romance, but in the end it did work out for Ruth and Boaz. Their son Obed was David’s grandfather.

Let’s make a couple of observations: Naomi’s somewhat transparent scheming was not subverted or rejected by God. She thought about things, made decisions and took action, and yet still somehow found herself guided by the Lord’s hand. I would say that discovering God’s will does not always require us to sit passively by while we wait for Him to act, and I think He even honors those who pursue His favor with passion in an imperfect way.

Second, the role of kinsman redeemer was apparently common knowledge to Naomi, Boaz, and the other people in their village. The women even sing about Naomi’s good fortune in having a kinsman in 4:14. We are going to take a deeper look at Boaz and his response as Ruth’s (and Naomi’s) redeemer tomorrow, but suffice it to say that this love story built on humility, loyalty, perseverance (and perhaps Naomi’s feminine wiles) is not put in Christ’s lineage by accident.

This series of events points to David—who obviously got some of his passion and love from his great-grandmother—and to Jesus the Messiah, who would both preach about and be characterized by these qualities. The inclusion of a Moabite woman points to the coming Messiah’s inclusion of people outside of Israel (which, as we noted, started with Rahab from Jericho). The story of her being rescued by a kinsman redeemer is a flashing neon sign announcing that the Messiah’s work will redeem the disadvantaged, the dispossessed, the downcast… If you’ve ever been in one of those categories, or are now, take heart: the Redeemer has come, and he wants to rescue you.

Naomi’s Redemption

Naomi’s life was stripped of joys:
Her husband died, and then her boys;
She faced a future full of grief without much prospect of relief…
She told her daughters-in-law to leave
And build their lives; Yes, she would grieve,
But they should go and carry on while she remained behind, alone.
And one of them took the open door;
It just made sense. They’d be so poor,
And living would be a daily grind: but one of them remained behind.
Naomi had told the girls the truth, so now she really questioned Ruth:
She said she shouldn’t waste her youth
By living on a widow’s mite. It wasn’t good. It wasn’t right.
But Ruth could only shake her head. She hugged Naomi. Then she said:
“Please do not entreat me to forsake or ever leave Thee.
I’ll stay with you forever, though the valley be so low;
Though this life may break you, this my love will not forsake you.
I will love Thy God, and there is one thing you should know…
So listen to what I have to say: Whither thou stayest, I will stay,
And from this moment, come what may, whither thou goest, I will go.”

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread