True Story: John Said his Best Friend was Full of Grace and Truth: Was He Lying?

This is a true story about lies… If your life depended upon knowing the truth, would you be happy with a lie? We generally don’t want to lead lives based on a lie, or feel that it’s healthy to engage in falsehood. (In fact, people who live lives based on falsehood are often called delusional, and locked away.)

The Gospel of John takes great care to remind us that truth is important, and he even tells us where to find it. John says that we beheld the glory of that baby born in Bethlehem, and that he was “full of grace and truth.” I am willing to compliment a friend, and it’s good to say something nice about someone, but I can’t really recall ever saying, “Old Charlie is a good guy. He’s full of grace and truth!” I’ve known people who were graceful, and I’ve known folks who were honest, but I’ve never described someone I knew really well as the repository of veracity. Usually when we say, “He’s full of it”, we are NOT talking about grace and truth…

Is it possible to say anything more descriptive and astounding about someone? John had observed Jesus at close range for at least 3 years, and certainly knew him well enough to be aware of any flaws he had to contradict this statement. Perhaps John is here echoing the claim Jesus made which was recorded in chapter 14: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father, but by me.” Jesus said, “I am the truth”, and John BELIEVED him.

Today, in an era when “objective” journalists (who were once bastions of truth and objectivity) publish sensational stories and suppositions without checking facts, or present part of a story as all of the story, someone who personifies the Truth is rare indeed. In our culture, spin is more common than fact.

To accentuate that point, consider that we actually spend most of our lives simmering in falsehood. Advertising agencies present stories and scenarios that will subtly convince you to believe whatever they claim about their products (even if those claims have no basis in reality). In an era where truth is watered down, twisted, and manipulated, truth is an endangered species. Think about this: almost every commercial message you hear tells a story that either makes claims that are not true, or creates a virtual myth-like environment in an attempt to alter what you think about reality. Christmas shoppers can avoid black Friday crowds and “save thousands” by buying a car.

story

Shaving commercials show guys lathered up like Santa with a shaving cream beard, when only about 1/3 of that amount of shaving cream is needed to actually shave– but they are trying to implant a false idea of how much cream a guy should use on every shave. (Same thing happens with pictures of toothpaste slathered on top of the toothbrush!) In the commercial story, if a guy uses a certain cologne, women go nuts over him. In reality a good smelling nerd is still a nerd. In the ads, beer drinkers are all hot, slim young people for whom life is a party (and Alpine climbers live in the cooler to bring up some cold ones from the pristine mountain waters.) I know a few beer drinkers whose actual profile is somewhat different, and up in the mountains you can’t even drink the stream water because you might get infected with Giardia, a particularly stubborn and nasty little parasite…

It’s not just advertising that twists the truth. Messages on social media are full of outright balderdash presented as fact, or partial and biased stories are published that pretend to be the whole truth. Based on the amount of exposure we have to advertising and social media, it is highly probable that you hear WAY more lies every day than you hear truth. Even if you don’t believe the story they are throwing at you 100%, the ads are designed to move your needle just a little bit over towards their version of reality.

Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, said “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.” Ironically, that’s still true. In a world filled with subtlety and spin, be careful that your needle isn’t moved too far by falsehood. I’d say this: find truth in your world; read it, listen to it, cultivate it, and rejoice in it. If Jesus was the truth, as he claimed to be, he is worth far more of your time than all of the newscasts, FB posts and commercial messages you will ever hear. According to John, Jesus was also full of grace. Would the world be a better place if there was a little more grace in it? Could YOU ever use a little more grace? Well here’s the deal: I’m willing to bet that if you seek the truth, you will also find grace.

The truth about lies is they’re hard to see,
Bombarding us from everywhere,
Reshaping our reality with subtle falsehoods that we share…
Lies come at us from every place–
From ads that do more than they seem–
Convincing us to load our face with 3 shaves worth of shaving cream.
We’re surrounded by these lies from cradle through impetuous youth
While subtle Falsehood in disguise disparages important Truth.
Grab hold of Truth! Don’t let it go,
And don’t let Falsehood take its place.
Beauty may be Truth, but know
That more importantly, Truth is Grace.

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 Obedient God: Something from Jesus’ Childhood that Might Surprise You

Hidden away in Luke’s comments about Jesus as a boy is a nugget you should not miss: Luke tells the story of the Obedient God.

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them…” (Luke 2:49-51 NIV)

Yesterday we talked about this passage from Luke, which gives us pretty much everything we know about the years between Jesus’ childhood and manhood. Here are a few final thoughts on Jesus as a boy… Remember, this is God with skin on, the Son of God, the Messiah who has been foretold. Surely he was no average twelve-year-old…

obedient

Have you ever wondered: What was he like? How did he exercise his power? Was he gifted physically the way he was gifted spiritually? If he was alive today, surely he’d be an NFL quarterback, right? There is so little in Scripture to go on about Jesus’ boyhood, and it’s tempting to try to reconstruct some things, but it is always important to let Scripture be Scripture, and allow the story to speak for itself. Luke 2:52 says that Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” He was growing in a balanced way; and the Bible basically says that his development was apparently fairly normal.

obedient

I love the fact that Luke points out how Jesus grew in four dimensions: mentally, physically, spiritually and socially. He wasn’t some spiritual nerd who didn’t live in the real world, but there was a balance in his growth that encompassed intelligence, strength, and his relationship with both God and men. That’s probably a good template for goal-setting when we start jotting down those New Year’s resolutions…

As for this story, the fact that he slipped away and stayed at the temple caught both Mary and Joseph a bit by surprise. I’m sure he was normally very obedient, and this was new behavior. Jesus was exploring some independence at age 12, and apparently knew an impressive amount of Scripture and was able to teach about the principles it contained. He knew enough, according to Luke, to astonish learned men. Since his own parents were surprised by what he was saying about doing his Father’s business, it makes sense to assume that this was not behavior they were yet accustomed to.

The Son of God was leaving boyhood behind, and stepping out onto a larger stage. He knew who his Father was, and was already connected to his mission. Those are all pretty impressive qualities to exhibit at only twelve. Luke’s short account of twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple makes it clear that Jesus was destined for greater things; but that last phrase in verse 49 about how he treated his parents kinda sneaks up on you. “He was obedient to them.” Apparently even the King of Kings obeyed his mom and dad. Young people take note: If God with skin on obeyed his parents, so should you.

Our culture loves the shallow things,
And all the toys celebrity brings:
The bling, the cars, the diamond rings,
The cash register when it cha-chings!
But Jesus grew up mentally,
And physically, and socially.
He also grew up spiritually,
In ways you could and could not see.
You’d think that Jesus had it made,
The power of God in man displayed–
And yet the hand that Jesus played
Was this: the Son of God obeyed.
He didn’t try to take command,
He didn’t overplay his hand,
But followed what His Father planned:
Obey. Be humble. Understand
That life in all its parts can be much greater than the sum;
And greatness doesn’t celebrate before its hour is come.
The key to life is not what is expedient,
But this: know what God wants, and be obedient.

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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His Amazed Parents Must Have Said, “I Thought He was With YOU”!

When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they (too) were amazed… (Luke 2:42-48 NIV)

amazed

This is the only anecdote Luke shared about the boy Jesus, the only real scrap of information we have about his formative years. I have always wondered how he became aware of his supernatural capacity. Did it happen all at once, or bit by bit? Certainly he was commissioned for public ministry at John’s baptism, but we are not really given clarity about when he knew who he was and why he came.

This story offers a couple of clues: first, at age 12 he demonstrated wisdom and comprehension beyond his years, which amazed the teachers at the temple. Men who were able to teach in the temple courts had generally spent a lifetime in the Scriptures and studying at the feet of other rabbis, so the fact that Jesus could astonish such men was no small thing. But interestingly, it says in verse 48 that when his parents saw him, “they were [also] amazed”, meaning perhaps they had not really seen such precocity in their son before now… When Jesus told them he must be about his Father’s business, Luke says in verse 50, “they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.” This incident at the temple was new information to Mary and Joseph, and therefore was new behavior on their son’s part.

I like to think that Jesus enjoyed a fairly normal childhood, playing and learning and growing alongside his brothers and sisters, that his formative years were full of joy and growth and love. (And yes, Jesus had siblings. Mark 3:21 and 31 speak of his mother and brothers seeking him, and in Mark 6:3, the people from the village ask, “Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?”) Jesus grew up in fairly large family, playing with his brothers and sisters. Perhaps they played hide and seek in the village, or chunked rocks at a nearby stream. Somehow I think that his early years connected him with his creation, deepened his compassion for mankind, and contributed to the love and resolve that later carried him through his mission. Russ Massey, my BSF teaching leader in Conroe, taught logically that if Joseph died fairly soon after this happened, then Jesus would have assumed (as the eldest son) familial responsibilities, helping Mary run the household, and that he assumed some of the burdens of running a family.

But I hope that in the years leading up to this he had carefree moments of play and laughter as well, bathed in the love of parents who knew all too well how special he was, waiting and watching to see how the prophesies would come true. This “I thought he was with you” trip to Jerusalem was probably Mary and Joseph’s first big “Aha!” moment that the Time was getting closer at hand, and that Jesus truly was gifted in ways that had been foretold. I wonder if it changed their relationship with him, and what they began to learn about him from that point going forward…

Say, when was your first big “Aha!” moment about Jesus? Has it changed your relationship with him, and is there something more you can learn from him going forward? When you see him in a new way, you’ll discover who He really is (like Joseph and Mary, and the guys at the temple) Perhaps you, too, will be amazed!

“I thought he was with YOU!” Or, “Wow, we thought he was with THEM!”
But here they were, a long day’s travel from Jerusalem,
And Jesus wasn’t there. Joseph and Mary turned around
And searched for several days before their precious son was found.
They found him in the temple, calmly sitting there unfazed,
Reasoning with the elders. Everybody was amazed
At all the wisdom he displayed, when all was said and done:
A page had turned. His parents knew his mission had begun…

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

 

Adopted Into the Royal Family: It Could Happen to You

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13 NIV) It would be pretty great to be part of a Royal Family. (We might have to be adopted, but it would still be great.) Many little girls dream of being a princess, and the Disney Princess industry is actually pretty astounding in the breadth of its offerings. There are shoes and dresses and tiaras and play sets and dolls and castles and jewelry and accessories, and oh so much more! Have you ever imagined being Royalty? To live in opulence, to have servants, to be part of the royal family?

adopted royal

It’s not something you can choose. Being Royalty is something you have to be born into, or marry into if you are fortunate enough. It’s kind of like winning the human genetic lottery. If you are fortunate enough to be born in a palace, you might get to sleep on silk sheets and have servants. Someone fortunate enough to be a royal gets to live in opulence and enjoy benefits that most of us only fantasize about. Maybe we could apply for a job as a servant in the palace, but that’s the only way we would ever walk the Royal halls…

In our world the average person has a much better chance of winning the lottery than of becoming part of a Royal family; yet John’s amazing introduction suggests that it is an option open to everyone. When he presents the Word made flesh, he ties the Bethlehem manger directly to the heavenly palace. Jesus affirmed that he had a kingdom, but told Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

This baby who was born in an obscure place and away from the mainstream of worldly power had the authority to confer citizenship in a new kingdom. But wait, there’s more! He also brought every one of us the right to become children of God. As opposed to human convention, religious systems or earthly royalty, this adoption into God’s family did not depend on money or pedigree or ancestry, or on someone’s acceptance or approval, or even upon a husband’s will; it required only that we believe and receive.

Anyone who does that, John says, has “the right to become children of God”. It’s ironic that the baby whose own family was plagued by questions of legitimacy, whose mother was pregnant out of wed-lock under questionable circumstances, has the power to get us adopted into God’s family. The Word, who humbled himself and gave up his own rights, lifted us up and gave us ours. He opened the doors to the palace and invited us in. As a result, we can be God’s children, fully vested in His family, and joint heirs to everything in His kingdom.

The Word made us part of God’s family, with all the attendant rights and privileges. In him, we stand to inherit everything that is rightfully his. Funny—in a way, since he was born so far away and separated from his Father, Jesus himself was a bit of an orphan, raised in a loving foster home. He knew what it was like to be near and yet far away, to be surrounded by family but still somewhat alone…yet the only begotten Son of God still made a way for every one of us to join him as one of God’s beloved adopted children. I’m sure if you ever feel a bit lonely or disconnected this holiday season, he knows just how you feel. He’s invited you into the palace, not as a servant but an equal. If you’d like to sit at the family table, he’s saved a place for you. Believe. Receive.

He never had a scepter, or wore a royal crown;
He never slept on silken sheets, with servants all around.
Jesus never held a court, or walked the halls of state;
He didn’t do the things that politicians think are great.
He never had a palace or the rich material things,
Although he was the Prince of Peace, the very King of kings…
His Kingdom wasn’t of this world, and built on war and greed,
But built upon his Father’s love, where he is Lord indeed.
And where the earthly system has degraded us and stopped us,
This king used his authority to love us and adopt us!
There’s just one catch: to be adopted, you must first believe Him,
And you’ll be in His family as soon as you receive Him!

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

 

Mary Treasured Jesus in her Heart. God Treasures You the Same Way

Out of the several accounts of the life of Jesus, only Luke offers us this quick observation: Mary treasured Jesus. That’s a logical thing to say about how a mother would feel about her child, but it speaks volumes about Mary and Jesus. It also might speak volumes about YOU. After twelve year old Jesus had been left behind in Jerusalem and was found teaching in the temple, Luke offers us our only glimpse of his childhood and development:

“Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:51-52 NIV) It’s a little intriguing to think about Jesus as a boy, and we can speculate about what he must have been like. Comedians have always joked that it must have been tough being Jesus’ sibling, since you would always hear, “Why can’t you be like Jesus? HE behaves!”

treasured

And in the Apocryphal gospel of Thomas the boy Jesus is depicted as performing some whimsical miracles, which is probably why that book stayed apocryphal and didn’t become part of the Canon. But in point of fact, not much is written about the boy Jesus, except for Luke’s anecdote about Jesus staying behind at the temple at age 12 while his parents headed back to Galilee…

Jesus was obviously gifted as a teacher and amazed the scribes and rabbis in the temple; but most of his amazing qualities were kept private, just as Mary “treasured all these things in her heart”. If you are a mom or dad, aunt or uncle, or friend of the family, perhaps you have spent time around a toddler or a small child. Think of being amazed at their development. Think of being overwhelmed by little things they do, from imitating you to discovering something with wide-eyed wonder… When you have a toddler in the house, you don’t need to watch tv, all of the cuteness you can stand is right there in front of you!

What things have you observed in little ones and treasured in your heart? Mary knew all of those things about Jesus and she treasured them. But don’t miss this: since we are made in our Father’s image, it stands to reason that God feels the same way about us; He watches our development, he sees us grow from spiritual babes into spiritual toddlers, and he treasures us in his heart. Have you ever equated how your Heavenly Father feels about you with the way you cherish an infant, or laugh out loud at a toddler’s antics?

I bet He takes the same delight in you, and is just as interested in your growth and development. Your picture is in His wallet; your crude but well-meaning artwork is on His refrigerator. God loves us not just for who we are but also for who we will become as we trust Him to help us navigate our path in a complex and fallen world. Certainly He enjoys our growth the same way we love seeing our children and grandchildren grow. Luke says that Jesus grew in four dimensions: mentally, physically, spiritually and socially. Like you, Jesus grew up in the real world. Like you, he was treasured, appreciated, and loved. That’s probably a good thing to remember as we head into the New Year. Treasure those things in your heart, and grow.

Mary watched as Jesus grew, and marveled at the things he knew;
From the humble manger’s start, she treasured Jesus in her heart,
Like any mother’s heart would do. Did you know someone treasures you?
One who loves to watch you grow, desires to teach you all they know,
One who loves with all His might, and watches you with great delight!
He loves you now, & every minute; His wallet has your picture in it!
He adores your every move, and offers you a Father’s love.
By every way it can be measured, understand this: You. Are. Treasured

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

 

See This About Jesus: His Own People didn’t See Who He Was. Could they have been TOO close?

The Hebrew leaders in first Century Jerusalem and many of his contemporaries did not see who Jesus was. Could they have been TOO close? “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:9-11 NIV)

In these verses, John refers to Jesus as the light of the world, and points out that not only was he unrecognized by the world at large, but he was not even received by his own people. How did that happen? The old adage “familiarity breeds contempt” may explain part of it, since Mark 6:3 records his rejection in his own village; but there’s more to it than that.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4 that there is an obvious reason why men fail to see: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” It is hard to see without light. I think I still have a scar on my shin from the time I hit the corner of a coffee table trying to traverse an unfamiliar hotel room in the dark. When you can’t see, it can be painful. And you can go the wrong way.

So here’s a simple intellectual principle from John 1: LIGHT HELPS YOU SEE. What is in your life that provides light for you? And what is it that shrouds you in darkness? What lifts you up, inspires you, and points your thinking towards discovery and truth? And what does the opposite of that? What points you to the light, and what happens in darkness?

It’s no accident that most violent crimes or despicable deeds are committed between midnight and four AM (although statistically many property crimes happen during the day, so be careful out there). Darkness provides cover for secret things. John 3:19 reminds us that “Men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” Here in his introduction, John says the Word was the light of men, but that it wasn’t recognized by world. That’s not too surprising, considering the Word did not share the world’s values or agenda. The world is a pretty self-absorbed, self-centered place. (Been shopping or driving lately?)

see-greed

The Bible says that Satan holds sway over the earth, so really we should not be too surprised when we find selfishness or deceit all around us, whether in our politics or in our culture. Heck, we even find those things WITHIN us from time to time. Consider this: being involved in sinful selfishness has never really been a great way to find God… When you are focusing all your attention on worldly things, it’s pretty hard to see the things of the Spirit, so it’s hard to argue with John’s statement about the world not recognizing the light.

Maybe it’s a little more surprising that Jesus’ own people (chosen by God) did not receive him. They were a people who sacrificed for sin, read the prophets and prayed the Shema daily. They were taught to love God with all their heart and to keep the law, but when Jesus arrived they didn’t receive him much more than the world did. Maybe they were caught up in their own agenda, or were closer to the world than they were to their roots. Or maybe they were TOO religious, and saw God as a legal system instead of a person. It’s very easy to worship religion instead of God.

Two quick things: there is lots of stuff in this world that will keep you from seeing Jesus. Don’t miss what he did; don’t miss what he said. Second, we all sometimes assume that proximity or connection to something is enough. “I live in a Christian nation.” “I read about Jesus in vacation Bible school.” “I go to church.” “I know the Golden Rule”. Don’t let familiarity keep you from seeing Jesus. His own people missed him. Just because you know SOME thing about him, don’t assume you know HIM.

There are so many ways that you can miss the Gospel truth:
Assume, ignore, avoid– or chase the foolishness of youth.
Sometimes what you think you know can lead you far astray,
While sometimes you don’t see because there’s something in the way.
Looking at the forest, it’s the tree that no one sees,
Unless, of course you cannot see the forest for the trees…
You may have heard the saying, “familiarity breeds contempt”;
Be careful, then, what you assume, for you are not exempt.
Lies can shackle judgment, but it is the truth that frees us;
So why not take a deeper look at the guy who said that? Jesus.

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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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
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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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