A "Ruthless" Lot?

30 Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar. He and his two daughters lived in a cave. 31 One day the older daughter said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is no man around here to give us children—as is the custom all over the earth. 32 Let’s get our father to drink wine and then sleep with him and preserve our family line through our father.” 33 That night they got their father to drink wine, and the older daughter went in and slept with him. He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up. 34 The next day the older daughter said to the younger, “Last night I slept with my father. Let’s get him to drink wine again tonight, and you go in and sleep with him so we can preserve our family line through our father.” 35 So they got their father to drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went in and slept with him. Again he was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up. 36 So both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father. 37 The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today. 38 The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi; he is the father of the Ammonites of today.

Genesis 19:30-38 NIV (via http://www.biblegateway.com)

I’ve been studying the life of Lot, the nephew of Abraham in the Biblical book of Genesis. The last we hear of Lot is a story of incest with his two daughters, after they have been rescued from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

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Lot’s rescue is filled with its own drama and scandal. First Lot begs the rescuing angels to let him flee to the small town of Zoar, instead of the mountains. The angels reluctantly agree to his request. But here we see that Lot ends up fearing for his life and fleeing again– to a cave in the mountains! As his family is fleeing, Lot’s wife turns back to see what is happening (against the explicit instructions of the angel), and is turned into a pillar of salt. Only Lot and his daughters are left from the wicked but prosperous city of Sodom and its sister-city, Gomorrah.

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But the stench of evil and rebellion lingers. Lot is now just an empty shell of his former self–a spineless hermit, isolating himself from what is left of his life. His daughters take control and hatch a ruthless plot to get what their father has denied them– families of their own. Instead of talking to their father, who seems distant and unwilling to help, or pleading their case for justice, they take matters into their own hands. They take turns getting their father drunk– so drunk he is unaware that his daughters are using him for sex–and getting pregnant by him.

The product of this wickedness is the rise of two violent nations who will plague the region for centuries to come. The names of Lot’s daughters are lost to time, but their sons become the ancestors of the Moabites and Ammonites– ruthless tribes who raid and plunder the nation of Israel (among others) over the course of many generations, even though they are distantly related. Time and again, the Israelites will have dealings– mostly bad–with these two people groups.

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The Bible doesn’t give us a reason why Lot did not make provision for his daughters. He seems to have made initial provision for them to be married to men from Sodom– he even tries to warn these men to flee the coming destruction. But afterward, he seems to have lost all interest in the future. Even in the small town of Zoar, there should have been some men who wanted to marry. Lot no longer had wealth and power to settle on them, but they were still related to Abraham, and to Nahor– why didn’t he appeal to his family to help with his daughters? We don’t know the reasons. Maybe he was ashamed that Abraham had to rescue him years before; that he had to be rescued again from Sodom’s destruction. Maybe he was too proud to ask for help. Maybe he was too broken to reach out. He had options open to him– he could have reached out– he could have called on the God of his uncle Abraham. But he didn’t. He could have stirred himself to do something on behalf of his two daughters, but he didn’t. He could have freed them to leave and try to find husbands on their own. But he didn’t. Instead, he became a pawn, yet again, in the wickedness of others– this time within his own household. He became the father of two mighty nations– without even knowing it!

And his daughters, having done this wickedness, did nothing to hide it or repent of it. The names of their sons reek of arrogance. Moab sounds like the words meaning “son of my father,” while Ben-ammi means “son of my people.” If Lot’s beginnings/parentage had been somewhat obscure (see https://pursuingprayer.blog/2020/01/13/a-lot-to-discover/), these boys were clearly labeled as the products of incest and intrigue. The Bible never reveals what kind of father Lot was to his sons/grandsons, but their legacy is one filled with bouts of antagonism, conquest, raids, and bitterness. Prophecies against Moab and Ammon are recorded in Amos, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, among others.

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In the middle of all this history, we have a bright spark of hope. In a sweet story of redemption and faith, we meet a young woman named Ruth (to read more, visit https://thebibleproject.com/explore/ruth/), from Moab. Her devotion to her mother-in-law, Naomi, and her gentle spirit catch the eye of Boaz, who marries her and rescues her from poverty and disgrace after the loss of her first husband. Boaz and Ruth become the parents of Obed, and the great-grandparents of King David. Ultimately, Ruth, the descendant of Lot, the scandalous descendant of incest and shame, is listed in the ancestry of Jesus Christ!

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Nothing– no act of defiance, no shameful event in your past or your family’s past– is beyond God’s gaze; nor his power to redeem and turn to good. Incredibly, Lot, with all his failures and bad choices; Lot’s daughters, unnamed and guilty of depravity; Moab, father of raiders and betrayers– all of them are in the earthly genealogy of the Savior who would come to die and pay the penalty for their sins. And for our sins. Lot’s descendants may have been ruthless, but thankfully, they weren’t “Ruth-“less! God– though He has the right to reject and despise those who are rebellious, defiant, or just unwilling to follow him– is not ruthless, either. Instead, He watches over us– whether we are living in a wicked sprawling city or a remote cave or fleeing famine, destruction, or poverty–and gives us opportunities to trust His plan for our future and for our good!

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Christians, Christ-followers, and Jesus Freaks

I see a lot of articles, posts, and religious sites as I wander around the internet. And there has been a lot written and shared lately about the word Christian getting a “bad rap.” Many writers and church goers are no longer comfortable calling themselves Christians. They don’t want to be identified with “bad” Christians– hypocrites, political extremists, etc., who loudly and proudly use the label while treating others with contempt, and generally acting like bullies and/or clowns. The growing trend is to use the term “Christ-follower” to describe a lifestyle that seeks to mirror that of Jesus Christ during His life on earth.

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Proponents of this practice point out that Jesus never called His followers “Christians.” Instead, He consistently invited people to “Follow me.” The term “Christian” is associated with the earliest Gentile churches and with the scattering of the persecuted church across Judea, Samaria, and Asia Minor. The term originated in Antioch a few years after Jesus’ resurrection:

19 Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. 20 But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. 22 Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. 23 When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. 24 For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. 25 Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. 26 And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. (emphasis added)

Acts 11:19-26 (NKJV via biblegateway.com)

For a more detailed look, check out this link: http://www.bible.ca/ef/expository-acts-11-19-26.htm

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Christian was not a positive or honorable label for the early followers of Jesus Christ. There are still many places in the world where the label “Christian” invites arrests, beatings, and death threats. There are places where the name “Christian” invites scorn and derision. What has changed (or seems to have changed) in the intervening years is that we see and hear of more and more places in the world where the label “Christian” brings up images of sneering protesters condemning gays or smug white faces spouting self-righteous phrases to justify greed, racism, and/or injustice. “Christians” are not just unwanted or misunderstood by others–Christians are unwanted by their own; misunderstood and misrepresented, at odds and at war with one another.

So what can be gained by followers of Jesus Christ in re-branding themselves as “Christ-followers?” After all, it’s just a name. In the 1960s, many Christians were condescendingly labeled “Jesus Freaks.” Jesus Freaks were viewed much like Hippies. They spoke of Peace and Love and Acceptance. They taught about kindness and unity. They were often young, and generally disillusioned with the older generation and its way of life. They acted a lot like Hippies; they just didn’t do as much experimenting with drugs and free sex. Much like the early Christians, they were labeled by those who dismissed their message and their way of life. They rejected traditional or mainstream Christianity, and were dismissed by many who called themselves Christians. Some were openly critical of previous generations of Christians. Many of those who wish to be called “Christ-followers” now are the descendants (or remnants) of the Jesus Freaks of the 60s. The mind set is very similar– disillusionment with others who have misused or abused the name of Christ, and a desire to “rescue” the reputation of the church.

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There have been other groups across the centuries who have tried to re-brand and re-label their devotion to Jesus– God-fearers, Disciples, Reformers, Witnesses, Saints, Fellowships, etc.. And there is no command in Scripture that we must all call ourselves by a particular label.

But is seems odd to me that the very label, “Christian,” that came about because of persecution, that came about as a derisive, sneering, condescending term, was embraced by those it sought to shame and intimidate. Why didn’t the original “Christians” re-brand themselves to make their cause less offensive? Why has this term, “Christian,” endured over the centuries?

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I think there are a few very good reasons:

  1. “Christians” bear the name of Christ, whatever other name they give themselves. When I say I am a Christian, I know that there are people who will compare me to others who make this claim. But I am not just a member of a group that likes the idea of Christ; I’m not just a Facebook follower of Christ, or a fan of Christ, or a student of Christ. Christ is my Lord; my life; my identity. Christ– Jesus the Christ, the Messiah. Not Joe Smith down the road who also attends my church, or a famous evangelist or Bible teacher, or even one of the Apostles, or Saints. Jesus– son of Mary and Joseph; Son of God and Son of Man. This same Christ was arrested, given a sham trial, condemned to be crucified like a common criminal, and hung, naked and tortured before a mocking crowd. He was humiliated, misunderstood, and abandoned by those who claimed to care the most. THAT is the name I willingly bear.
  2. “Christian” is a label. I can label myself in any number of different ways– “Woman,” “American,” “Caucasian,” “College graduate.” But there are many others who can use those same labels. They may define what I am, but they don’t define who I am. I may be appalled (and I am, sometimes) at things other women do, at things other Americans say, at the history of Caucasians and their interactions with indigenous peoples in other parts of the world, at the snobbery of other college graduates…But I don’t say, “I’m no longer going be an American; I want to be known as a resident of the United States, but I have my own system of government and culture and language independent of those living in Missouri or Idaho or Chicago– they don’t represent who I am.” Of course they don’t represent who I am–they never did. We all, collectively, are Americans AND residents of the United States. I can’t decline to be a woman because I don’t like the way other women behave or speak. And I can’t choose to be “other than” a Christian…all I can do is give it another label.
  3. Finally, who I am is not found in a name or title or label. It is the sum total of my character and the way I live my life. Jesus didn’t tell His disciples that they would be known by any particular name, but He did say they would be known and identified by their love: 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 NKJV). That doesn’t mean I have to approve of everything other “Christians” do– in fact, if they use the name Christian and do not have love for others, they prove they are liars– but it means that I must do everything in the name of Christ.
    I am a Christian first, before I am a woman or an American or any other label. That means that I am the co-heir and sister to a young man in India who has been rejected by his family and expelled from his school for being a Christian. I am an ambassador of Christ to the woman I meet in the grocery store whose children are taxing her patience and whose cart is blocking the aisle I want to enter. I am an example of Christ’s love to the young couple who have been victimized by other “Christians” because they are “different.” And I am a Christian in a world of “fake” Christians, and confused Christians, and faulty and very human Christians just like me, who need correction, mercy, justice, and wisdom to follow Christ, to die to self, and to bear the honor of His name. Ultimately, I can call myself a Christian, a Christ-follower, a Jesus Freak–any other label I want. Whether I AM a Christian or not will be determined by how I live, not what I call myself.
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If you are a Christian reading this– how are you bearing His name today?

Sticks and Stones…

Children can be very inventive when finding ways to hurt other children. Name-calling, shunning, shaming, or just pushing, shoving, and tripping each other on the playground. As parents, teachers, and concerned adults, we should be working to instill compassion and discipline in our children– compassion to see how such actions and words hurt, and discipline to keep them from speaking and acting out of emotion and carelessness. We also spend time wiping away the tears and comforting those children who have been bullied and hurt by their peers. And we teach them sayings like, “Stick and stones may break my bones, but words (or names) can never hurt me.” Such sayings mean well, but they are not entirely true. Words and names can hurt. They DO hurt. And they don’t just hurt the person who is the target of such words. They hurt the speaker and everyone who lets the words fall unanswered, or who picks up the words to hurt someone else.

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Christians should stand out as beacons of light and love. Yet many of us are guilty of throwing “sticks and stones” every bit as hurtful and thoughtless as those hurled by playground bullies.

A few years ago, I read with some shock a hate-filled article from a Christian woman who was urging all her Christian friends to boycott “Operation Christmas Child”, a group sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse, a charitable organization founded by Franklin Graham, son of the famous Evangelist, Billy Graham. Every year, Operation Christmas Child sends out millions of shoeboxes filled with Christmas gifts, meant for some of the poorest children around the world– orphans, refugees, and those in extreme poverty. But according to this woman, Operation Christmas Child was a hate-filled organization, spreading racism and condescension by sending “white” “western” baubles meant to taunt the recipients–useless articles like dolls and toy cars and color books with crayons. She also called out Mr. Graham as a racist, homophobic, hate-monger who should be — well she did stop short of asking for his assassination, but not by much. (I’m not here to champion Mr. Graham. But she gave no examples of racism and homophobia, nor did she give Mr. Graham any chance to defend his organization.)

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Her proposal was that anyone wishing to help someone in a “third-world” country should instead send their donations to a group that provides livestock– goats and chickens–to struggling farmers and families in developing countries, giving them the means to be self-sufficient, independent, and providing practical help instead of “frivolous toys”.

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I spent hours crafting a response to this woman’s article– one I later deleted without sending. I believe her proposal came from a heart that sincerely wanted to help others. And I think her hatred and disgust for Operation Christmas Child was based on criticisms she felt were warranted. But her article left me in tears for three reasons:

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  • It was hateful and filled with the kind of name-calling and condemnation that Christians should not just avoid, but mend and correct with love and grace. That doesn’t mean that we cannot say anything negative about other Christians or criticize their actions if they seem inconsistent with the Gospel. But there are Biblical guidelines for doing so.
  • Second, the article was divisive. She did not allow that anything about Operation Christmas Child could be done with a loving motive or a positive outcome. Because she found issue with the founder and with the design of the boxes and certain contents, she felt justified in condemning everything and everyone connected with it. And because she had found a solution that made her feel virtuous, she wanted every Christian to follow suit.
  • Finally, I believed her article was driven primarily by the passing emotions of rage and disgust self-righteousness, instead of a desire to do whatever she could to honor God and help those He loves. In fact, the majority of those living in poverty around the world (and thus subject to the goals of the charities she contrasted) live in urban areas–often they are homeless or live in crowded refugee camps or sprawling housing complexes. Sending livestock can certainly help farms or families who have land and food available to tend them. It is a helpful and loving gift to send a goat to a family or small village–it is however, impractical to send a pair of chickens to someone living in a high rise in Nairobi, and her advocacy shows a “western”, “white” naivete that rivals the one she sees in dolls and color books and caricatures printed on the boxes used to send them.

My response was no better–it pointed out her faults (as I saw them), and was designed to make her feel foolish and little and “wrong”. And just because I deleted it then, I obviously have not forgotten the incident. But I bring it up now because I see in it an ongoing problem—one to which I am not immune, even as (or maybe especially as) a Christian. It is very easy, especially with social media, to speak “in the moment”– and often in the emotion of the moment. We react, rebuke, chime in with our “two cents,” and let our tongues (and fingertips) destroy when they should be building up.

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” Proverbs 25:11

Taken from pinterest.com, based on Proverbs 25:11

So, for this new year, am I hurling sticks and stones, as I sneer at those with whom I disagree? Am I like the playground bully, finding delight in calling others names, or laughing at their expense? Am I tearing down other Christians because I hear others being critical? Or am I using my tongue (and my keyboard) to bless others? Do I speak the truth (harsh as it sometimes is) with love and grace, or with pride and condescension? Do I listen more than I speak? Would I want Jesus to read my Facebook posts or hear my conversations? (Because He DOES!) Does He speak through me?

May His words take up residence in our hearts and spill out of our mouths and fingertips today!

A New Command

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:34-35 (NIV) taken from http://www.biblegateway.com
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Jesus was about to be tried and condemned to die. He was giving His disciples last instructions and reminders. But in the midst of it all, He gave this “new” command. I’ve read this passage dozens of times, and yet it struck me, possibly because we have just started a new year, that Jesus calls this a new command. Love one another. As if this was a revolutionary concept; as if it had never been spoken before.

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So I began to search. ” You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. ” (Deuteronomy 6:5 ESV) “Do not take revenge on others or continue to hate them, but love your neighbors as you love yourself. I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18) “So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. ” (Deuteronomy 10:19)

Throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites are commanded to love God and to love their neighbors, especially to those who might otherwise know only hatred or injustice– enemies, conquered peoples, resident aliens, widows, orphans, etc.. Most often, the commands are given in negative terms– how NOT to treat others. “Thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt not bear false witness…”

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There is nothing completely new about Jesus’ command in John 13, but it IS new– it is a positive command to show love for one another. And Jesus goes further– “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” This goes beyond simply seeing that others are treated fairly within the broader society. Jesus washed feet. He went out of his way to speak to those who were despised and marginalized– tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers. He didn’t write a check to a non-profit charity and pat himself on the back. He didn’t share a political cartoon about Pharisees or the Roman Emperor with his followers or join the Jerusalem March for Jewish Rights–he challenged the Pharisees face-to-face about their unjust practices and healed the family members of Roman officials. He gave His life– not just on the cross, but in serving others’ needs throughout His earthly life.

Love One Another. It isn’t a suggestion. It is a command–one Jesus gave directly to His disciples. It is not a new command to the Church; but it is one we have not obeyed fully. We love those Christians in our small group at church, or those who share our politics, or those who look and talk just like us. Or we “love” those Christians who are struggling thousands of miles away– from our safe and comfortable lives thousands of miles away.

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I find myself often reading this command, but trying to obey it the same way I look at the Ten Commandments– obedience by omission; obedience in the negative. “Thou shalt not offend. Thou shalt not intrude. Thou shalt not condescend.” But that’s where I stop. I don’t wash feet. I don’t visit the sick or disgraced. Sometimes I send a check or donate a box of unwanted items.

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What would this new year look like if I followed this command more fully? What if, instead of just showing love to those I already like, or when it’s convenient, I reached out across town or across the globe to share my time, my heart, my resources, my skills, with those who need them most? What if I obeyed Jesus’ command to love those around me as Jesus has already loved me?

What if I dared to pray that God would bless others through me, instead of just asking that everyone would “be blessed.”

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In this new year, God, let this be a new command– one that I follow with my whole heart– that I should love others as You have loved me!

Faith and Faithfulness

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible… And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Hebrews 11:1-3; 6 (NIV) taken from http://www.biblegateway.com

Faith is essential to prayer. Not only is it essential that we know the truth, we must depend on it. Those who lift up general prayers to some unknown “force” in the universe have no real hope that their prayers will be heard, instead of bouncing around among the planets in silent expectation. We pray to a God who sees, hears, loves, and works among us. And He will answer our prayers– in His way, in His time, and to our ultimate benefit.

That does’t mean that we must blindly believe everything we hear about God, or that we must agree exactly with everyone else who claims to believe. None of us has ever seen God face-to-face, nor can we claim perfect knowledge. But there are certain truths that do not change– God is GOD; creator, ruler, unchanging and Holy. God is who He says He is, not who someone speculates or imagines Him to be. God is mysterious, but He is “Knowable”–we see His character in the natural world, and we can see His reflection in the people around us who are all created in His image. Most of all, we have the testimony of Jesus Christ and of all who have followed Him and been transformed by Him. To all who earnestly seek Him, He has given us His Word, and His Spirit to guide us. And God is Good. Even though nature (and human nature) has been tainted and twisted by sin, God remains true to His own goodness. Even in the hard times, when God seems distant–especially when He seems distant–faith looks beyond our present circumstances, and the taunts of our enemies, to remind us of God’s providence, His Power, and His promises. Our present trials and calamities are not beyond His ability or His willingness to turn to good purpose, and they do not compare to the promises God has given.

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Faith is essential to prayer, but so is faithfulness. Prayer is part of a growing relationship with our Maker. And like any relationship, it must be maintained. God is eternally faithful, but we are not–not in our own power or in our own will. And our faith, without faithfulness (in prayer, in devotion, in our everyday thoughts and actions) will wither and die. The same thirst we have for prayer in the valleys of life should be present when we reach the mountaintops. The same need we have to cry out for help should be the need we feel to cry out in praise. This will not happen without discipline, developed by daily seeking His face.

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As we approach a new year, we can make many plans and resolutions– let one of them be to strive for faithfulness, especially in our pursuit of prayer. We know it is the right thing to do. And our faithfulness is not just for us. It blesses the heart of the One who was faithful even unto death. And it shines as an example to those around us– inspiring some to faith, and others to renewed faithfulness.

The Weary World Rejoices…

We live in a weary world– weary of war, weary of chaos, weary of worry, and weary of sin and its consequences. From the time the alarm rings to the time we finally lay down our weary heads, we are bombarded by stress, misunderstandings, distractions, disappointments, questions, harsh words, harsh images, demands, doubts– I’m tired just listing them…

Even so, we are surrounded by promises (mostly false) of peace and rest, satisfaction and success. “Buy this!” “Try that!” “New!” “Improved!” The voices call out, offering temporary bliss, or temporary escape from the weariness all around. “Jingle Bells!” “Happy Holidays!” “Tidings of Comfort and Joy!” It is tempting to let Christmas become just like all the other worldly distractions–shiny, loud, stressful and fleeting, full of promise, but leaving us empty and cold in the end.

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But Christmas IS different, because it doesn’t celebrate what the world has to offer. The celebration includes lights and bells, songs and gifts, food and friends and family– but at its heart, Christmas celebrates something “out of this world!” Jesus came to a weary world long ago, and no matter how weary the world was, or is, or will be, Jesus brought all the hope and healing of Heaven in the small package of a tiny infant child in a crowded town in a conquered land.

On that Holy Night, God crashed the party– He did more than watch from a distance, more than speak from the skies above or send angel messengers–He arrived, actively participating in the struggle, the bone-weariness, the hunger and thirst and chill and stress of living among His fallen and fractured creation.

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And the weary world rejoices–can you hear it? Above the bustling noise of people shouting, and car horns blaring, and advertising slogans, and piped-in Christmas songs…Can you feel it–beyond the comfort of a warm blanket and hot cocoa, beyond the hugs of friends or the smiles of strangers or gifts from loved ones? Can you see it–beyond the glare of city lights, undimmed by the darkness of hatred and greed?

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The lights and songs will fade away, but the Love, Joy, and Peace of God that came to the world that first Christmas is for all time!

“Fall on your knees!
Oh, hear the angel voices,
‘O Night Divine. O Night, when Christ was born.
O Holy Night!'”

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Are You Ready?

Someone asked me yesterday if I was “ready for Christmas.” They wanted to know if I had prepared for the holiday– had I bought and wrapped presents for the family, sent out Christmas cards, decorated the house, baked cookies, etc.? I had to admit that I was not ready in that sense. I don’t generally do much in the way of decorating, and I’ve cut back on the cookie baking, too. I’m not sending greeting cards this year, and I don’t have all the presents purchased or wrapped.

But I AM ready for Christmas– I’m ready to celebrate the coming of Jesus to Earth; His life, death, and resurrection; the new life and hope that resulted from God’s boundless love. I’m ready to sing carols and light candles and rejoice! I’m ready to be awestruck again by the ancient story of shepherds and angels and wise men from the East; of the little town of Bethlehem and the manger stall and a bright star; of a newborn child; the Lord of all Creation wrapped in rags; the Word of God willingly limited to unintelligible cooing and soft cries, to nakedness and infant human weakness.

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Being “ready for Christmas” means different things to different people. To many, it means surviving the stress of shopping, going to rounds of holiday parties, and trying to remember that it is supposed to be a season of “peace on Earth.” For others, it means watching the celebration from the outside looking in; facing loneliness, grief, regret, and envying or resenting those who have found joy when all they see is darkness. For some of us, it means reflecting on the amazing transformation we experience because of the coming of this single baby. We remember that there was a time when there was no Christmas– only a dim hope that God would someday send a Savior. Once the prophets could only speak of what had been promised, but not yet seen– could only remind people to “get ready” for something they had never known.

The world was waiting for the Messiah’s coming, yet it was unprepared for His actual arrival.

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But the story of Jesus Christ didn’t end with Christmas. It didn’t even end at Easter, with the glorious resurrection. We await the triumphant return of the risen Christ. He is Coming! He will return in an instant…no long period of Advent; no countdown calendars or lists of things to get ready; no angels or stars to announce His arrival; no Christmas pageant or Easter sunrise service–just a trumpet blast and an explosion of Glory. He will not arrive as a helpless babe, or a suffering servant, but as a conquering King. There will be no carols about little towns and sleeping cattle; no time to “let every heart prepare Him room.”

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Today, we prepare to celebrate Messiah’s coming. We spend time and money and energy getting “ready” to recreate the Advent of Jesus Christ. How much time have we spent getting ready for His return? I pray that this Christmas season will mean more than just a happy celebration of one event– even one as joyful as the Birth of Christ. Let us prepare our hearts to live out the joy of His Salvation, and prepare to receive our King in triumph.

Of Gingerbread, Christmas Trees, and Frankincense…

As the Christmas season approaches, people are decorating their homes– wreaths, Christmas Trees, lights, gingerbread houses, manger scenes, elves and reindeer, candles and more. And along with the sights and sounds and tastes, the air is redolent with the scents of the season.

Scents evoke memories and emotions deeper than any of our other senses. We can close our eyes or ears to unwanted stimuli, but it’s difficult not to breathe in the spicy air filled with cinnamon or cloves, or ignore the scent of pine or scented candles filling the room.

There was no gingerbread, or evergreen tree, or clove orange in the stable where Jesus was born so long ago– no candles or air fresheners to cover the other scents of animals and afterbirth. But when the wise men arrived to worship the infant King (which may have been a couple of weeks or even months later), they brought gifts, and two of the three were spices– Frankincense and Myrrh. They were precious spices, with medicinal and healing properties, and were also used in embalming– symbolic of Jesus’s future life and death. Oddly enough, their fragrances are reminiscent of citrus and pine, two scents we commonly associate with the Christmas season. https://www.history.com/news/a-wise-mans-cure-frankincense-and-myrrh

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God never wastes details. The Bible is full of them– lists of names, detailed instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle and Temple, references to various places, animals, trees, events– seemingly unimportant, sometimes even distracting–but all of them have a purpose. The gifts of the Wise Men (or Kings) were costly, prophetic, and worthy of a newborn king. But they were also physical gifts. The Bible never tells us how the gifts were eventually used– Did Joseph and Mary use the gold to help pay for their flight to Egypt? Did Mary save the frankincense and myrrh to use for Jesus’s burial? We don’t know. But the spices would have kept their scent for a long time, releasing their fragrance whenever the jars or containers were opened. And they reveal something about both the recipient and the givers.

God reveals Himself to us in many ways– and He appeals to all of our senses. Our worship of and fellowship with Him should do the same. We may not have access to frankincense or myrrh (though they have increased in popularity and are readily available from dealers in essential oils), but the Bible tells us that WE are a fragrance– our worship, our obedience, our sharing of the Gospel with others.

14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?

2 Corinthians 2:14-16 (ESV) via http://www.biblegateway.com

Above all, our prayers are said to be incense– a pleasing aroma before the throne of heaven:

The Lamb Takes the Scroll (Revelation 5:1-10 CSB)

Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides, sealed with seven seals. I also saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or even to look in it. I wept and wept because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or even to look in it. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. Look, the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered so that he is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Then I saw one like a slaughtered lamb standing in the midst of the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent into all the earth. He went and took the scroll out of the right hand of the one seated on the throne.

The Lamb Is Worthy

When he took the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and golden bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song:

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You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slaughtered,
and you purchased people
for God by your blood
from every tribe and language
and people and nation.
10 You made them a kingdom
and priests to our God,
and they will reign on the earth.

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This season, as we revel in the scents of the season and remember the gifts given to the infant Emmanuel, let us present Him with the gift of fervent prayer and enthusiastic praise. He is Worthy!

Taste and See…

Candy canes, Christmas cookies, hot cocoa, fruitcakes, and families feasting…this season is filled with food and memories of food shared with those we love.

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But there is no feasting in the Biblical tales of the Nativity. No cookies or pies, no roast lamb or goose, no hot cocoa or fruitcake. So is it wrong to celebrate Christ’s birth with tasty treats?

I don’t think so. (And not just because I enjoy tasty treats!) We’ve spoken recently about seeing Jesus as the Light of the World, and hearing the Word of God, and feeling the warmth of God’s Love…God speaks to us through our senses, and taste is no different. There is nothing inherently sacred about Christmas cookies. And even foods like pretzels and candy canes, which can be symbolic of prayer or the shepherd’s crook, or other religious symbols, are still ordinary.

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But the Bible is not silent about food and feasting. In fact, King David said:

” Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
    Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints,
    for those who fear him have no lack! “

(Psalm 34:8-9 ESV, via http://www.biblegatewaycom)

And Jesus would invite each of us to “taste and see” His goodness as we remember His death and resurrection:

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23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

1 Corinthians 11:23-25 (ESV) via http://www.biblegateway.com

As we prepare to celebrate the Nativity of our Savior, may we engage all of our senses to recognize His goodness, and may we share the memory of all the good things He has given us– physical and spiritual. May we delight in the tasty treats, but let us also remember that Jesus is also the “Bread of Life,” and the “Living Water.”

Also, in this time of bounty and excess, remember that we are to “taste” and see God’s goodness, and to share it! Christmas gluttony does nothing to remind us of God’s goodness, and may prevent other “hungry souls” from being able to enjoy. And that doesn’t just apply to food. May we be eager to share– food, laughter, hugs, good news, compassion, and the truth. The sweet and the bitter…may we taste and recognize our health, strength, and life in the Goodness of our Great God.

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Thank you, Jesus, for being our nourishment. Thank you for precious memories shared around tables–food and fellowship, laughter and love. Thank you for being God With Us in every “sense.”

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