Decisions, decisions: This Christmas Business was Tougher than you Think

Before and after Jesus was born, Joseph had some tough decisions to make. In our previous post we discussed the decision to flee from Bethlehem to go all the way to Egypt. Imagine Joseph and Mary in Egypt, away from friends and family, forced to become refugees in a strange land. Then this: “After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

“So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.” (Matthew 2:19-23 NIV)

Joseph’s relationship with God was not limited to the pre-Advent announcement about his first son. Obviously, he had to deal with issues that were beyond the scope of most typical First-century Jewish husbands and fathers, and he had to make some tough decisions. He had to deal with 1) a bride who was pregnant before the wedding; 2) the messengers of God coming to him with directions; 3) a pretty dicey political situation, what with the local king trying to kill his son and all; and yeah, 4) he had to make some pretty difficult travel arrangements under adverse circumstances.

decisions

On top of all of that, he and Mary also had to decide where to live and how to raise the Son of God who had been placed under their care. There was no Century 21 office to advise them, and I’m sure buying a home was not easy in their circumstances. They still had to evaluate neighborhoods and make assessments about what was happening and where to settle geographically so that the Christ child would be safe.

I think it’s interesting that, even under the protection of the Most High, Joseph and Mary still had to make decisions about where to go; they still had to take action to be obedient. They had been warned of Herod’s treachery and had to get up at night and escape to Egypt, to live among strangers in a strange land. It doesn’t say they were told HOW to do those things. They were certainly vulnerable and in danger, but they trusted God and responded to His word. I’m sure that those weeks were lonely and fearful, and that there were moments of doubt and uncertainty for the young couple as they began their life together.

Perhaps there is something in their story for us. A walk with God is not a magical Union that takes place in spiritual realms; it is a journey through hard times in an uncertain world where bad things can happen. I think it’s instructive that Mary and Joseph           1) listened to God’s word to them; 2) made decisions based on what He said; and 3) demonstrated obedience to God by acting upon his instruction. You think maybe we could learn from that? If it worked for Joseph and Mary, maybe it would work for us.

I hope these dreams are who they say they are;
We’ve left our family, and we’ve traveled far
To live down here in Egypt. It’s been rough,
(As if this birth had not been hard enough!)
So now we have to take a different tack;
The angel says that we should travel back!
Judea isn’t safe; so, where to go?
I guess when we get closer, we will know…
But Mary is amazing. We will make it,
And if God has some more advice, we’ll take it.
We are strangers living in this land–
Something that I never would have planned–
But we have both obeyed the Lord’s command:
So in Him we will trust, and take our stand.

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
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Magi: There’s a Reason why They call Them the “Wise Men”

“After they [ the Magi ] had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (Matthew 2:9-12, NIV)

Most Nativity scenes show three wise men at the manger, and Christmas lore is rich with images of and legends about them. The Magi are a fascinating part of the Christmas story, with their camels and trappings and gifts, and they deserve some study because of their place in the series of events spoken of in Matthew. They are mysterious figures, thought by some to be kings of Persia, or possibly Zoroastrian priests who studied the stars as part of their religion. It has also been suggested that perhaps they descended from Jews who had been exiled to Persia but rose to positions of prominence, (think: Daniel, or perhaps Esther and Mordecai) That possibility seems logical because it might explain their familiarity with OT prophecy about the Messiah.

They also seem to be ancient amateur astronomers, but consider this: We sometimes forget that the ancients had clearer views of the night skies than we do (no city lights to cloud their view), and plenty of time on their hands (no sitcoms or prime time TV to distract them). The average shepherd probably knew as much about the position and movement of the heavens as some current astronomers do, and the Magi grew up studying the stars religiously.

Here are a few quick trivia facts about them: 1. Nowhere does the Bible mention only 3 three wise men; it explicitly mentions three gifts, brought by Magi. 2. It is highly unlikely that there were three guys traveling alone through the desert on camels. With gifts of such value, there had to be a group large enough to protect itself, and they probably had some soldiers or cavalry with them… (That might be why Matthew says “Herod was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him”. A large party of armed men made folks nervous in those days.)

real magi

3. They didn’t make it to the manger. At the time of Christ’s birth, they were probably approaching Jerusalem to talk to Herod. 4. Lots of folks have tried to associate the star with a known astronomical event, and there may have been one initially; but at the end, since the star rose and led them to the child, it is likely that it was a unique manifestation, such as God’s radiance in the Shekinah, that provided guidance for the last leg of their journey. 5. They saw not a baby, but a young child (clear difference in the original Greek), and came to a house, not a stable. Jesus was weeks if not months old when they presented their gifts… 6. The tradition of our Christmas gift giving comes at least partially from the gifts of the Magi. Like them, we should bring what we have and lay it at the feet of Jesus! 7. Joseph isn’t mentioned here, which doesn’t mean he wasn’t around, just that he wasn’t mentioned. (He is around later when Jesus is 12 and they find him teaching in the temple, but that is our last Biblical reference to Joseph).

Finally, after seeing the young boy and worshipping him, they returned home by another route. My BSU Director Glen Norris used to teach the version of the Bible that said, “They went home another way.” He always maintained that anyone who really meets Jesus, and truly worships Him, will be fundamentally changed by that experience, and go home “another way”. So the wise men not only took another route, they became different types of men, fulfilled by faith and encouraged by events. As result, they went home with new perspective, new motivation, and new direction. My Christmas prayer is that our world could open the true gift of Christmas and do the same thing. As you reflect on the origins of Christmas, may you, too, be wise…

(Even though the Magi may have been accompanied by cavalry, there were probably some camels along, and it is entirely possible that the tradition of camel transport still makes sense. So that is where this poem came from…Not necessarily historically accurate, but I like the idea)

The Camel

Slow he rises! Hideous, hairy: hollowly he plods his course,
His hump-backed and misshapen body carries its express remorse.
Glaring eyes with bushy eyebrows–stinking, spitting ugly beast!
Of all mankind’s domestic creatures, he must be the very least.
Men for centuries have mocked him: used, abused him without care–
Silently he bears their scorn, ungainly walks the earth aware
Of comfort in his secret: “Fools! These men will never know
That once I heard the baby’s cry, saw where the star did go,
And brought my Magi bearing gifts, and watched them bowing low.”

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
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Christmas Untold: The REST of the Story of Fear, Flight and Faith

After you have celebrated the Nativity scene, the angels’ announcement, and the birth of Jesus, it is time to consider what Christmas was all about for Mary and Joseph.
“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Matthew 2:12-15, NIV).

The Christmas story doesn’t end with the Nativity. It begins there. For Joseph and Mary, it meant a hasty departure under cover of darkness to a strange land. It meant hard travel in open country with a young mother and an infant whom Herod was seeking to kill…

Christmas

Come to think of it, it had to be a scary trip, maybe the scariest road trip experience of all time. Yes, there was an aging and jealous king trying to eliminate a potential threat to his throne, but it wasn’t just Herod who wanted the baby dead. Paul reminded us in Ephesians 6:12 “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places…”

It was not only Herod, but every dark power in this world had to be uneasy, sensing this sudden goodness which was now present on planet earth. Surely every evil force could feel a shudder of its own death knell, and stirred blindly and restlessly, reacting with vague disquiet against God’s work in the world. Against a creepier background than any horror film could conjure up, Joseph took his little family in the dead of night and set out for Egypt.

Behind the holy family, Bethlehem was about to experience the slaughter of the innocents; before them lay a long and uncertain journey to Egypt. Satan has never been omniscient, or surely he would have known who this baby was in advance, and ended the Christmas story at the manger… But the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of evil.

Undoubtedly, through the millennia Satan was anticipating the arrival of a coming king, and was ready to do battle with God’s royal emissary and savior; perhaps, like the Pharisees, he was looking for a majestic, powerful king who would come heralded in glory, ready to fight the Romans. He certainly worked hard in the courts of both Judean kings and Roman emperors (and most royal houses throughout history), using ego and treachery to corrupt and contaminate almost everyone who attained a position of strength. Winston Churchill, who was a pretty astute chronicler of history, said “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The devil has been pretty effective at corrupting leaders (he’s still doing it today), but Satan did not foresee God’s unusual plan. God chose weakness to confound strength. He heralded not a military kingdom but a spiritual one. Against all logic, He sent humility to oppose power. God chose a frail baby to end an evil empire based on selfishness and pride; and He sent Jesus to begin a new kingdom based on peace and love. And guess where it starts, the week after Christmas? Look no further than your own heart…

Forced to flee in the dead of night,
Joseph had disturbing dreams
Which warned him that they must take flight
From Herod’s mad and murderous schemes.

Commanded by his jealous word,
Assassins through their village crept,
And performed their duties undeterred
As mothers wailed and fathers wept.

But Herod’s minions missed the mark,
As Joseph took his wife and infant son
Traveling hard to safety in the dark:
Their long and dangerous journey had begun.

And every evil power on this earth
Was restless as it sensed this new-born king,
Uneasy since the announcement and the birth,
Uncertain of the changes it would bring.

The powers of darkness felt the child’s great good,
Felt the Spirit around him as it flowed,
And stirred to end this danger, if they could,
From the family alone, out on the open road…

 

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
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Herod May Have Been Great, But Here’s Something Else: He’s Really Obviously Depraved

“When [Herod] had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ (Matthew 2:4-6, NIV). Herod acted like he was helping these wise men from the East, but he was actually trying to use them for his own ends. Probably because of his declining health, Herod stayed and sent them to find out where the Christ was located so that he could then eliminate this new threat to his throne. We’ll look at the Wise Men a little closer tomorrow. But, “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:16-18, NIV). This is when the birth of Jesus started getting REAL, ya’ll. Herod murdered a bunch of young boys in Bethlehem, just playing the odds and assuming that he would catch this newborn king among them.

Herod

He chose two years and under to spread a wider net because some time had passed since he sent the Magi to Bethlehem and then waited for their return, so he wanted to make sure he got the would-be Messiah. That means a number of babies were killed senselessly in his attempt to eliminate the threat to his power.

Reliable estimates suggest anywhere from six to twenty children would have been murdered by Herod’s men. (Hmm, I wonder if these men covered their identities and wielded swords.) This despicable act—not so different from some of the things we read about in the paper today—became known as “the slaughter of the innocents”, and has been questioned by historians because it was not widely mentioned in extra-Biblical sources. However, historian R. T. France, addressing the story’s absence in “Antiquities of the Jews”, argues that “the murder of a few infants in a small village [is] not on a scale to match the more spectacular assassinations recorded by Josephus”.

After all, Herod killed people who were well-known in Jerusalem—including his wife, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, and three of his own sons—so the act of killing a few unknown infants out in a small village may not have been front page news at the time… This event is still today one of the main things we remember about Herod the Great—and one of the great tragedies connected with the birth of Jesus. Yes, his birth is good news, tidings of great joy.

But amazingly enough, a baby who could save the world and who would teach nothing but love had evil and implacable foes, men who would kill rather than acknowledge him. I’ve always felt like the persistent hatred and vitriol about Christ (don’t people use his name to swear?) actually validates his identity. If he was just a passing nobody, he would have been forgotten long ago, as forgotten as the Scribes and Pharisees who argued with him in the temple. The fact that so many folks from both now and then resist him so vehemently makes me think that there are larger spiritual stakes involved, and that he must have been something more than a pretty good rabbi.

There was passionate resistance against Jesus, enemies who would twist words and commit murder to keep him from fulfilling his mission. There were men who bristled at the very name of Jesus, who didn’t want it mentioned or valued. Amazingly enough, there still are! This Christmas season, people here in America are demanding that manger scenes be removed, and that Christ be taken out of Christmas. Apparently they still don’t want to allow him to be king… After all these years, men are still trying to eliminate the baby Jesus. Some things, it seems, never change…

The winter had been hard; so when they showed up at the gate,
Armed to the teeth and sitting horse, of course I made them wait.
Their coming caught us all off guard. And yet they brought that news,
Something about a star they’d seen, and a new king of the Jews…
My counselors confirmed the Scriptures also contained some clues:
The rumor was, a king would rise somewhere in Bethlehem;
I must admit my humor was not the best it’s ever been,
Confronted with these Magi and their horses, and their men…
But I kept my composure, sent them out, told them to bring
Me any information they could find about this king–
This tiny new usurper who would dare to steal my throne!
My family learned when they could not leave well enough alone,
That Herod is not pleased with other applicants to his court:
I’ll see to it this infant’s reign–just like his life–is short.
This little king, his family and all the world will learn
How Herod treats his rivals, when the Wise Men all return…

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
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Real People. Real Christmas. Real Intrigue and Danger.

There are some interesting details about the real events behind Christmas. “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him…” (Matthew 2:1-3, NIV)

The Magi, who studied the heavens and knew something about the arrival of a new king of the Jews, came “from the east” to find out about this newly born king… Naturally they went first to the current king in Jerusalem, Herod the Great—a king who had an impressive resume in some ways, but a cruel man who was known for levying high taxes and building the temple. He was in perhaps the last year of his reign, dying from gonorrhea and possibly cancer.

Herod is known for his impressive accomplishments as a builder, and his architectural accomplishments can still be seen today at Caesarea, Masada, and Jerusalem.

real Masada

He had a long, tumultuous reign filled with treachery and murder. He not only executed his wife, Miriamme, but her mother Alexandra as well. He had two of his brother-in-laws killed, and also executed his own sons Alexander and Aristobulus. He was so jealous of his throne that at one point it prompted Augustus to say, “It is better to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son” (a reference to the fact that the pig had a better chance for survival than a son, since Herod’s household didn’t eat pork).

Matthew’s description of Herod’s reaction to the Magi is intriguing. While there is much to explore about the Magi, it is also interesting to take a closer look at Herod’s role in the nativity. After all, he was at least partly responsible for sending them to Jesus. “Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” (Matthew 2:7-8)

Herod is a somewhat forgotten part of this nativity, but he certainly played a significant role in the birth and early life of Jesus. Matthew says in verse 3 that when the Magi arrived in Jerusalem, “Herod was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” It might make sense that Herod was troubled—he guarded his throne zealously, and certainly did not enjoy having other aspiring kings around. But why was all Jerusalem troubled with him?

Dr. Duane Edward Spencer taught that since Herod was a cruel ruler who was not exactly beloved in Jerusalem, the fact that the city was disturbed along with him at the approach of these men suggested a somewhat larger and more capable party than three men on camels—perhaps a troop of famed Persian cavalry. It makes sense, since a few men carrying valuable gifts would have been easy prey for robbers, and three guys on camels probably wouldn’t make a city tremble.

This is a real story about real people, and it makes sense that men of this stature would not travel without protection, and that Herod and people in Jerusalem would all have their own interpretation of events. Herod tried to twist the Magi to his own ends, asking them to go find this newborn king so he could “worship him”. Like many real politicians before and since, Herod was lying about his true intent. He was a paranoid ruler who was constantly involved in intrigue and questionable choices. (A Herod played a role in Jesus’ birth and in his death. His son, Herod Antipas, carried on the family tradition of making poor choices by marrying his half-brother’s wife, Herodias. She was the one whose daughter danced provocatively for him and then demanded the head of John the Baptist. Definitely soap opera material… Herod Antipas is the same guy who wanted Jesus to perform for him, and who sent him back to Pilate after a very cursory “trial”). But at about the time of Jesus’ birth, Herod the Great sent the Magi to Bethlehem to find Jesus and report back to him. When they didn’t bring him a report, he reacted by doing something that followed his reputation down the corridors of time.

real danger

He killed all the male children in Bethlehem two years of age and under. While he missed Jesus, his cruelty touched many other lives, and his action has always been known as the “Slaughter of the Innocents.” (While scholars have not found a direct reference to this act outside of the Bible, it is certainly in keeping with Herod’s character–the man so jealous of his throne that he killed his own mother-in-law, two sons, and his wife Miriamme, just to mention a few. Executing a few little boys would not have bothered him in the least.) Real people. Real events. Know your history: Jesus was really actually part of it.

The Holidays are twinkling lights
And carolers on snowy nights,
Our Christmas movies on TV and presents underneath the tree.
We think of things we love so much–
The Christmas tree, the gifts and such,
And little children’s shining eyes with every Santa Claus surprise!
But don’t forget, when your stockings and hearts are filled,
The boys in Bethlehem, and the evil king who had them killed.
Traditions are nice, and so are the things we feel–
But don’t forget. Yeah, Christmas just got real.

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
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

 

Light that Helps You See. Evidence that Helps You Decide

Light may help you see where you are going, but it doesn’t dictate which course you choose to take. John refers to the Word as “the true light that gives light to every man”. (John 1:9, NIV)

I used to think this couldn’t be true, since every man might not have had a chance to see or hear about Jesus (such as all who came before, and everyone who was raised in darkest Africa or China, where Jesus was not a household name…) But in thinking about him as the Word, as the creative expression of God’s personality, (John 1:3, “without him nothing was made that has been made) it hit me: every man is exposed to some revelation about God through the order and design of the universe, which reflect the creative nature and character of God. As Abraham Lincoln said, “I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how a man could look up into the heavens and say there is no God.”

We may not see Jesus directly, but because He is the Word who created all things, we see evidence of Him all around us, as well as above and beyond us. (“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork.” Psalms 19:1) If you look at creation, you can certainly get a sense of the personality of the Creator. But here’s the problem: while you can infer a Design from design, you cannot empirically prove that the Designer exists. So why didn’t the Word make himself undeniably evident?

light life

32328

The thing is, God has given us evidence instead of proof so that we have a choice about faith. If I could PROVE God’s existence to you, then you would HAVE to accept it, and faith would play no part in discovering who God is. The creation tells us much about God, but He has not directly revealed himself for good reason. People who say to God, “Show me who you are and I’ll accept it” are testing the God of the universe and telling Him to come to them on their own terms… But God doesn’t do that. He comes to us on His terms, and He has already told us how that will happen.

C.S. Lewis points out that people who want God to appear before them may be asking the wrong question. “But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realize what it will be like when He does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks on the stage the play is over… That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not” (p. 65, Mere Christianity).

In our daily exposure to creative design, we encounter the Word of God. (Since He created those things, it makes sense that we would see Him in them, right?) It is interesting to compare the teachings of Christ to the structure of the universe, and to see the intimate details wrought into galaxies and microbes, to realize just how astoundingly right John was. Jesus taught about agriculture, the Kingdom of Heaven, and about seeing the Father. There is beauty in the creator’s handiwork that can only be discovered in the light of the Word.

There is light coming to us from the vast reaches of space, from stars whose network of gravitational power holds us in exactly the right place in our solar system so that we can exist. There is light from our own sun, which keeps us from freezing, activates photosynthesis in plants, provides us with vitamins, and which makes it possible for us here on earth to experience life and growth. There is order in the ways things operate, whether you look as far out into the heavens as you can, or as deeply into the microscope as it is possible to look. Every created thing reflects principles of order and design. God’s handiwork displays infinite scale that is both massive and microscopic; there is relationship, there are consequences, there is harmony and truth.

See if Abraham Lincoln was right. Go out to the country on a clear night and gaze into the stars, past the constellations and out into space. Think about the fact that some of the light your eyes can see has traveled thousands of light-years across space, and originated before the pyramids. See if your soul isn’t stirred a bit, if you don’t find yourself a little bit in awe of the Creator… Compare what you feel to what you know about the Word of God. It just may be that you are receiving more light out there than you ever realized before.

John declared that the Word was light, that somewhere in God’s plan
There is a revelation that has come to every man.
The skeptic calls this false, of course,
And says you cannot prove the source;
He hopes he will not have remorse,
But believes in a kind of cosmic force…
This kind of independent thinking prospers and persists
Since God will not force anyone to know that He exists.
He offers every man–not proof– which would be undeniable;
But evidence, so that man’s faith would not be unreliable.
It may seem right to look around, and ask God for a sign;
But if there’s light when you look up, perhaps there is design…

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
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

 

“In Him Was Life; And that Life was the Light of Men”

Of this baby born in Bethlehem, John said, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (John 1:4-5, NIV) Men have been misunderstanding Jesus since the time he was an infant. Apparently it is really easy to not understand Jesus… and one of the easiest ways to do that is to assume you already know, and to avoid really looking at him. Because you’ve heard a parable or two, you avoid looking at his entire life. People often look at small snapshots of Jesus without ever watching the whole movie.

life

Or they assume that Jesus must be like people who say they know him, and the spectrum of behavior from folks who say they follow Jesus can be both incredibly varied and incredibly misleading. They range from misguided religious nuts to sincere believers who make mistakes, still live in the flesh, and yes, still commit sins… It’s very easy, if you are skeptical, to look at the Church—the imperfect, stumbling, bumbling followers of Christ and decide Jesus is not for you.

Or it’s easy to avoid looking at him closely because you think he is like “nominal” Christians, who may not actually be connected to him at all. So many people say, “Yeah, I know about Jesus, I know about his teachings”, when all they have done is given a cursory glance at what he said, or listened to a secondhand account (yeah, like this one) of what he said. But I would say that to anyone who encounters the Jesus of the Bible, the rabbi who gave the Sermon on the Mount, the teacher who confounded the Pharisees, or the healer who healed, the same man whose birthday we celebrate every year at Christmas, John’s description of the Word is accurate and applicable.

After 3 years of walking daily with Jesus, of watching him heal and listening to him teach, and after having meals and walking along the road and going to parties with him, he understood who Jesus was, and he captured it perfectly here in his introduction: “In him was life.” To Jairus’ daughter in Luke 8, Jesus was life; To Lazarus in John 11, Jesus was life; to the thief on the cross beside him in Luke 23, Jesus was life. To Stephen in Acts 7, even as he fell beneath the stones, Jesus was life. Saul of Tarsus, better known as the Apostle Paul, said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil 1:21)

To me, in the 20th century as an insecure teenager, Jesus was life. As an adult who could be living in Pottersville instead of Bedford Falls, Jesus is life. Question: have you REALLY investigated Jesus of Nazareth? Do you know what he taught, have you truly looked at what he was about? John says that “in him was life, and that life was the light of men.” I would suggest that there is indeed darkness in this world, and that the darkness not only doesn’t understand Jesus, it doesn’t want anyone else to understand him either. To those who understand Jesus and discover life in the Word, John promises illumination in the darkness. He promises the ability to see new things, to grow, to stretch outward and upward to life-giving rays of hope! I hope you investigate. I hope you understand. You know who said, “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly”? Yep. But don’t take MY word for it.

He walked with Jesus every day. John talked with him along the way;
He heard what Jesus had to say. He ate with him. He watched him pray.
He saw the things that no one sees, saw him confound the Pharisees!
He heard him preach and saw him heal, and decided Jesus was for real.
Then, finally, he wrote a book. It’s short. Go read it, take a look-
A book I heartily commend, John’s own account of his best friend:
He wrote this down, and it’s worth saying again:
“In Him was life. He was the Light of Men.”

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
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

 

Shepherds Were Considered Low Class in Israel. So Why did Angels Come to THEM?

The Christmas story starts with shepherds. Really? It’s quite a humble start to an amazing story…
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” (Luke 2:8-10 NIV)

shepherds

Normally if a King was coming into the world, it would have been in a palace, and there would have been great fanfare over the birth of an heir to the throne. News would have been sent out from the palace with trumpets and proclamations so that everyone could hear the big news! Royal family members and political insiders would have been the first to hear the news, and it would have spread from there.

In Luke’s account about the new-born king, however, the news did not come from the palace but from the pasture, sent to a group that was more often than not marginalized by religious society. Even in God’s economy, this did not seem like a logical choice. Shepherds were not the first group almost anybody would have picked to receive the good news of Jesus’ birth. (Why not priests or soldiers, or somebody from the palace?) Any Messiah maker with good sense would have proclaimed the news of the Savior’s arrival to the High Priest, or a governor, or someone with influence and a platform; maybe somebody who could get the news on TV.

Why was Jesus born then and there, before God could take advantage of all of our modern media and technology? Looking back, doesn’t it seem like God used really poor judgment in His timing for the Advent? As a point of fact, because of their remote workplace and pastoral schedule, shepherds were usually ceremonially unclean, and unfit to even enter the Temple. Because of that they were far down the list that any Hebrew sage or leader would have used to announce something important. As it was written in “Jesus Christ, Superstar”: “You’d have managed better if you had it planned; why’d you choose such a backward time and such a strange land? If you’d have come today you would have reached a whole nation; Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.”

Why was Jesus born in such a primitive time? Why did God choose to send angels out into the countryside to announce the news to mere shepherds? Some say they were loners, always out by themselves following sheep around. It was a humble job away from the limelight. Some also say shepherds were not the most social of guys, maybe not too high on the Bethlehem social ladder, and not the first guys you’d invite home to dinner… These particular shepherds may have been watching over the ceremonial flocks kept outside of Jerusalem, full of unblemished lambs and goats destined for slaughter at the temple. It was an ironic religious fact that such men were often considered unfit to enter the temple they served…

On the other hand, David was a shepherd, and he developed pretty fair fighting skills, wrote songs and Psalms, and ended up having a pretty notable career. I think the angel appeared to shepherds as a subtle nod to Jesus’ ancestry, and as a reminder that great things can have humble beginnings. If these shepherds indeed watched over the flocks destined for sacrifice, then it’s impossible to overlook the direct connection to the lamb of God.

At any rate when they heard the announcement, these shepherds carried the “good news that will cause great joy” into town and out to the surrounding areas; out of the hillsides and into history. And you know what? They may not have had TV or the internet, but amazingly enough the shepherds’ story is still being told, and is well known in today’s modern media age… Perhaps God knew what He was doing after all by announcing the good news when and where He did! Two things: does this good news bring you great joy? (I hope so!) And who are you telling about it? Perhaps someone you know is waiting to be carried from the hillsides into history. And into heaven as well.

There, on the hills near Bethlehem, the plaintive, restless flock
Was destined for Jerusalem as sacrificial stock.
Trying to sleep on a fitful night,
We heard a sound–almost took flight–
Awakened by a glorious light, astounded by the startling sight
Of a messenger whose voice instills
Great fear, and brought us shepherds chills
Out there, alone up in the hills…
He gave us tidings of great joy!
“There is a King! A newborn boy!
They’ll call his name Immanuel!”
With that, a choir began to swell
And sing of glory, peace as well,
As we were captive to its spell:
He told us, then, to go and tell…
Well after that, what could we do?
We went! We found the babe! It’s true!
Of all the things I’ve done, and not done yet,
That is the thing I can’t –I won’t– forget.
Whatever I may do, or men may say,
Say this: I was in Bethlehem that day,
And saw the child, in the manger where he lay…

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
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

 

The Gift that keeps on Giving: Who Says Christmas Only Comes Once a Year?

Christmas is all about giving and opening gifts! It is a tradition that goes back to the gifts of the Magi, which were presented to Jesus as a young child sometime after he was born. Some folks relate it to Saturnalia, a pagan Roman festival which pre-dated the birth of Christ, and which was supplanted by the Christian celebration of Jesus’ birth. Since people gave each other small gifts during that winter festival, the custom was appropriated by early Church Fathers. (Although some Christians today refuse to celebrate because of those early roots, but I say, why let the devil have all festivals? It’s ok to celebrate the birth of Christ and give gifts!) Which gift will be your favorite this year?

gift

We commemorate the actions of the Magi in Matthew 2:11: “And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” Gifts are a wonderful part of our Christmas celebration. But as you open your presents today, remember that there are gifts, and there are GIFTS: There is the gift of life. There is the gift of love. And then there’s this: “For the wages of sin is death; but the GIFT of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, KJV). “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the GIFT of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9, KJV). “But the free GIFT is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the GIFT by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded unto many.” (Romans 5:15, NIV) “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.” (John 3:16, KJV) No matter where you are and no matter what your circumstances today, never forget that Christmas is not about toys or things. It’s about new life. And it’s about a new KIND of life. To me, eternal life is an attitude that not only transcends time and space but it begins here and now! I like to think it is what Gus McCrae meant in “Lonesome Dove”: “It ain’t dying I’m talking about, it’s living. I doubt it matters where you die, but it matters where you LIVE.”

gift

This year, don’t limit Christmas gifts to a single day. Celebrate it all year long! Embrace life wherever you are. Live with an awareness of the gifts that matter. Don’t get so caught up in your new iPhone that you miss the greatest gift of all! Merry Christmas!

A Christmas Rhyme
Sing Hosanna, peace on earth! Celebrate the Savior’s birth!
As Angels sing, Rejoice with them! This baby, born in Bethlehem,
Made every earthly power shift, and offered us His matchless gift.
Give “Peace on earth” and spread “Good Cheer”! But tell me, if this isn’t clear:
Since Jesus showed that “God came near”, why celebrate just once a year?
In winter, summer, spring, and fall, open the greatest gift of all—
At home, abroad, at work or play—Celebrate Christmas every day!
Whenever you recall this rhyme: it’s Him, it’s you, it’s Christmas time!

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
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

 

Coincidence Disguised as History. History Connected by Coincidence

Most casual observers might say, “Wow, That’s a Really Amazing Coincidence!” I say it is something else…

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.” (Luke 2:1-4 NIV)

Joseph was from Nazareth, not Bethlehem. Under normal circumstances, Jesus should have been born there at home in Nazareth, a relatively sleepy little village in Galilee. But a taxation decree from Caesar Augustus forced Joseph to take Mary from Galilee to Bethlehem, and it was there Jesus was born. Coincidence? This fulfilled a prediction written over 700 years before by the prophet Micah: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrata, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2 NIV).

Look at a couple of things about these verses: First, the birth of Jesus was a REAL event that took place in a REAL location in the midst of REAL historical events. There was a census (you can look it up), and by coincidence Quirinius was actually a mid-level governor in Judea. (Scholars place his time of service and the Roman census both at around 6 AD, which helps to date the birth of Christ around that time.)

Second, because Joseph went from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be registered, Jesus was born away from his childhood home. Since Jesus grew up in Nazareth, the Pharisees did not associate him later on with Bethlehem, and it was one of the things that bothered them about Jesus and kept them from seeing him as the Messiah. He wasn’t from the religious and cultural center of Jerusalem, and it diminished his importance in their eyes. In John 7:41-42 they argued about it: “But some said, “Will the Christ come out of Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?”

coincidence

The Pharisees (like Herod’s elders who consulted the Magi in Matthew 2) knew that the Messiah would come from the city of David, and their tribal knowledge presumed that Jesus grew up in Nazareth. What they didn’t realize was that, perhaps by coincidence, out of all the places in all of Judea, Joseph had to leave Galilee and travel with his pregnant wife to Bethlehem, and the timing had to be such that she delivered not at home in Nazareth but while staying briefly in the city of David. Pretty remarkable that a Roman decree moved Hebrew people around so that Joseph and Mary ended up in Bethlehem, the exact birthplace of the Messiah, which fulfilled Micah’s prediction from over 700 years before…

Besides that particular prophecy about his birth, the Hebrew Scriptures also predicted that Christ would: (1) be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14); (2) be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2); (3) ride the foal of a donkey into Jerusalem (Zechariah 9:9); (4) be descended from David (Isaiah 9:7 and Jeremiah 23:5); (5) be “lifted up” and “marred beyond recognition” (Isaiah 52:13-14); (6) be crucified, as depicted in Psalm 22. Those are but a few of the Hebrew scriptures written hundreds of years before Jesus, predicting some of the things that would happen to or around him…
Remarkable? Yes. Coincidence? No.

You don’t think He created earth; you can’t believe the Virgin birth.
His parables and works were fine, but you don’t see him as divine.
Perhaps if you could look and see the Hebrew Scriptures’ prophecy,
You’d come to find it all makes sense: if it’s just ONE coincidence,
Then you could push him out of mind, or call me intellectually blind;
But search the Scriptures, and you’ll find
A dozen prophecies aligned with things that Christ would do.
So was he God? Or was it just a coincidence or two?
A dozen? No, I think I undershot,
since actually there really are a LOT–
Just take that Bible down from off the shelf,
And do some research. Look it up yourself!
Those prophecies from hundreds of years before;
I’ve quoted a few, but there are many more.
To many folks it doesn’t make much sense;
But I don’t think it was coincidence!

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
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread