Wednesday, November 30, 2011

ADVENT: Dec. 14

                                                                                                                                                              Read or remember the book of Esther  Key verse: 9:30  "Letters wishing peace and security were sent to the Jews"

"How can this be?"

When the first Christmas happened most of the world was unaware of it.  There were many signs of God's activity but they could have been dismissed as coincidence, exaggeration or rumor.  The book of Esther is the only book in the Bible that does not mention God.  Yet God is obviously active in it all.  Nine times we are told that King Xerxes sent out a decree(2:8,3:15, 4:3,8, 8:14,17, 9:1,13,14).  Each time the king thought he was in control, but the LORD was working out His plan in it all.   Some of the King's decrees were motivated by evil and some by good, but the LORD was working out His plan.   Ultimately, God's plan for us is peace and security.   Years later another decree went out from another King who thought he was in charge.  Caesar's decree to tax the world led to a birth and an announcement of peace on earth.

Even when we cannot see Him and sometimes when we don't even care, God is at work.  He wants us to have peace and security.  The Devil will try to cause events that damage and detour our lives, but the Lord God Almighty is on our side.  Christmas reminds us that God is at work in His world.  A virgin becoming pregnant is an amazing thing!  It was no exaggeration or rumorIt was God at work--because that is what God does.   How can this be?  He is. And He is God!

"Then  let us all with one accord sing praises to our heavenly Lord.  Who hath made heav'n and earth of naught, and with His blood mankind hath bought."

ADVENT: Dec. 13

Read I Samuel 17:32-51    Key verse: vs. 37  "The LORD who rescued me from the claws of the lion and the bear will rescue me from this Philistine!"

"How can this be?"

One way the question can be answered is in the activity of God.  He is involved in His creation.  Many of the forefathers of the USA were Deists.  They believed that God was like a watchmaker who, having made the watch, winds it up and lets it work on its own.  They felt that God watched from a distance as His creation worked on its own.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  God made the watch, keeps it ticking, and fixes it when it breaks.

David knew about the activity of God.  God had helped him many times.  Now, as recorded in our scripture reading, David faced the fight of his life.  The whole nation of Israel depended on the defeat of Goliath.   David made it clear that the LORD would give him victory.   He got into the battle by convincing King Saul that "The LORD who rescued me from the claws of the lion and the bear will rescue me from this Philistine.   He said to Goliath, "You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of Heaven's Armies...Today the LORD will conquer you.  And He did!

We face many giants in our lives.  There are dangers, difficulties and doubts.  But the same God who delivered David and rescued the whole world through Christ will give us the victory.   This is a call for faith.  We should take God at His word by taking His Word into our lives.  And then, with the promise of God's activity in our lives go out and slay our giants(even dwarfs that seem to us like giants!).  We know He will do it because He did it that first Christmas.   Jesus means "Savior".   And Savior means "Deliverer".  That's what He came to do.  And He will!

Monday, November 28, 2011

ADVENT: Dec. 10

Read Luke 24:Ezekiel 36:25-28, 39:25-29  Key verse Lk. 24:49  "I will send the Holy Spirit just as my Father promised.  But stay here...until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven."

'How can this be?"

The angel told Mary that the Holy Spirit would come upon her.  The result would be Christmas.  The Holy Spirit brings the power, presence, and activity of God into our lives.    In Ezekiel the power of God would cause His people to be changed and transformed into strong believers.  These believers would then express God to others because they would then have hearts of flesh, obedient spirits, and a sense of the presence of the Lord.

It was a promise from God, spoken by God through Ezekiel and carried out by Jesus when he told His disciples they would receive the promise of the Father when they got the power from on high.
The Holy Spirit came upon the yielded Mary and He later came upon the surrendered followers of Christ.  Power is expressed as coming down on us from above as a way of saying the Greater One is giving power to the lesser one.  That  Spirit can cause the surrendered followers of Christ to walk in His ways.   A promise is conditioned only by the faith to believe it.  If we take Christ at his word, that Word becomes flesh in us.  His Life is fleshed out in us.  Such power is transforming!

ADVENT: Dec. 12

Read: Genesis 11:1-9  Key Verse:  "And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built."(Gen. 11:5)

"How can this be?"

The love of God is the motivation for Him to come to earth.  The power of God is how He did it.  The activity of God is the way He came--He came because of His love, power, and activity--He can do it!

Early on in the history of humanity, they did what humans are want to do:  Try something great apart from God.   They wanted to make a name for themselves by building a city and a tower reaching to heaven.   God came down to get involved.  He had a better plan.  He planned on our ending up in a city and actually in heaven.  It would take a long time, but it would bring Him great glory all along the way.

God is involved in our world.  He came down primarily in His Son at the first Christmas.  "How can this be?"  It can happen because God is active in His creation.   We often think of the incarnation as a warm and fuzzy event--and indeed it is.  But it is also a time of judgement.  John the Baptist, preparing the way for Jesus said, "the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."(Luke 3:9)   John called for repentance saying that God is able to make spiritual children.  Christmas is a call for faith in the One who loves us and gave Himself for us.  God's judgement is designed to make us want heaven on His terms.  When we say yes to Him, and allow Him to be active in our lives, we begin to discover His purpose for our lives.

ADVENT: Dec. 11

Read:  Luke 4:1-19  Key Verse:  "The Spirit of the LORD is upon me"  (Lk. 4:18)

"How can this be?"

When Mary asked that question the angel said, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you."(Lk. 1:35)  The Holy Spirit is the third person of the triune Godhead.   He is the power and the activity of God.  Christmas can happen because the Holy Spirit will bring it about.  He did it for Mary and He can do it for you.

When Jesus grew up and began His ministry the Holy Spirit gave Him strength and worked through Him.  When he was baptized the Holy Spirit came upon Him(Lk. 3:22).  Then Luke four says, "And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness." (vs. 1)   "And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit." (vs. 14)   In the synagogue He took the scriptures and read from Isaiah, "The Spirit of the LORD is upon me."(vs.18)  Though, as Son of God, He could have acted on His own, He clearly acted only by the direction of and in the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit of God is how Christmas happens.

God's goal in your life is to form Christ in you so that others can see Him.  This is a process that begins when you receive Christ as Savior and continues as you follow Him.   It is a miracle that only God can do.  It is easy to ask, "how can I be Christ-like?"  The question is similar to Mary's "How can this be?"  The answer is that it can happen only as the Spirit comes upon you,    Mary could not have produced any baby, let alone the Son of God, by herself.  Jesus tells us that by ourselves we can do nothing,  Yet, when filled with the Holy Spirit, we can do amazing things as He works through us.  

Let our Christmas prayer be,  "Father, I surrender to Jesus Christ as LORD and ask your Spirit come upon me and take control of my life."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

ADVENT: Dec. 9

Read Matthew 2:1-12   Key verse:  "Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh."  (vs. 11b)

"How can this be?)

If any humans knew the answer to Mary's question it was the wise men.  These were learned men who studied the heavens and looked for signs.  They were not really astrologers as we think of the term.  They were more like scientists and philosophers.  Being very wise men, they knew that the mighty universe had to have a Prime Mover.  They also must have known that this God was personal and that it was not out of the question that He would want to pay a visit to the people of His creation.  They knew that there were laws governing all things but that the Great Law Giver could use them to accomplish His purpose.

These men were willing to travel a very long distance to worship the Great God who was being born as a baby.  They recognized the Lord's visitation and presented Him with gifts of great value.  

Wise men and women still understand that God has the power to bring off Christmas.  They also are willing to go the extra mile to come and worship the Christ.  Wise people see the value of giving the best that they have to the One who made the heavens and the earth.  This Christmas season, take time to worship and give to the mighty God who became a little baby that ultimately we might enjoy the riches of eternal and abundant life.

Monday, November 21, 2011

ADVENT: Dec. 8

Read Isaiah 9:2-9  Key verse: vs. 6 "He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."

"How can this be?"

Mary's question was answered seven hundred years before Jesus' birth by the prophet Isaiah who said, "The people who walk in darkness will see a great light.  For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine...For a child is born to us, a son is given to us."  This prophecy tells of the child to be born who would have the power of God with the government of the universe on his shoulders. The gift of Christmas is the gift of God's son--a light coming into a dark world.  God has the power to bring this off and He has the love to give Him to us.

Do you have a sense of no power in your life?  A child is born to you.  Do you feel that you have no direction in your life?  A son is given to you.  You may wonder with Mary how it can happen, but, if like Mary, you will simply believe and say, "be it done unto me your servant" you will experience great wonder.  Waiting is usually involved.   Israel had to wait 700 years.  Mary had to wait 9 months.  But the life and power of God did come.  And on his shoulders rested and still rests the government of the cosmos.  We call Him, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  His rule will never end--in fact it has always been!  God can do it because He has always ruled as his creation needed.  
Because He loves you so much, He will not force Himself into your life.  But if you let Him, He will come in power and be to you  a great friend-advisor,  a strength, eternal life, and your peace.   What a Christmas present!

ADVENT: Dec. 7

Read I Kings 1 Kings 18   Key verse:  "The LORD--He is God!  Yes, the LORD is God!" (vs.29b)

"How can this be?"

Mary's question is our question.  The story of Christmas is nice and sweet, but could it really have happened?  The angel answered Mary by saying that the power of the most high would overshadow her.  The Bible is filled with wonderful examples of the power of God.  In one great example the prophet Elijah is doing battle with the false god of Baal.  Wood was placed on an altar on Mt. Carmel and a contest was held to see which God could send down fire to burn the sacrifice.  The prophets of Baal called on their god most of the day with no success.  Elijah then had water poured on the wood again and again until it was completely soaked then called on God, "O LORD, answer me!  Answer me so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself."  God heard Elijah"s prayer and "immediately the fire of the LORD flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood,, the stones, and the dust.  It even licked up all the water in the trench!  And when all the people saw it, they fell face down on the ground and cried out, 'the LORD--he is God!  Yes, the LORD is God!"(I Kings 18:37-39)

We all have a tendency to want to chase after false gods such as possessions, power, popularity, and pleasure , but they never satisfy.  Christmas reminds us that God loves us enough and is powerful enough to meet our deepest needs.  When we trust Him, He will overshadow us and demonstrate that He alone is God.  And out of His working in our lives, a Life will grow in us that causes us to be more like Jesus and fills our hearts with love peace and joy.  Christ wants to demonstrate his power in your life to let you know that he is bringing you back to Himself.  The incarnation is God's power at work to bring a lost world back to Himself.  Trusting Him places us into that process.

How can this be?  The God of Elijah is our God as well.  Elijah was a man with a nature just like ours (James 5:17) and his faith produced amazing results.  Mary was a woman with a nature just like ours and her faith led to the coming of the Son of God into our world.  The LORD, he is God!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

ADVENT: Dec. 6

Read Genesis 1:1-3,  John 1:1-5   Key verse:  Gen. 1:1  "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

"How can this be?"

Mary's question about Christmas can be answered by God's love.  It can also be answered by God's power.  If God made whole universe then He is obviously is very powerful.  If He made the cosmos, He also made all the laws of physics, biology, etc.  So He knows how to use those laws and even bypass them to accomplish His purpose.  The angel Gabriel, when asked by Mary how she could become pregnant since she was a virgin, answered that "the Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the most high will overshadow you."(Lk. 1:35)  God's motive for the incarnation was love and His agent for it was His power.

It is hard for us to conceive of a time when there was nothing(not even time)--except God Himself.  Out of this emptiness the Spirit of God was moving and the Father was speaking the the world into existence through His Son.  Where there was darkness, there now was light--simply  done by the Word of God.   Think of the vastness of the universe--the unimaginable distances to other stars and galaxies--and the micro distances as we study particles so small that no telescope can detect them--physicists only assume that they must exist.   God is bigger than all of that! 

Our God is a god of the supernatural--a God of miracles.  Three great miracles mark history.   These great supernatural acts of God are the creation, the incarnation, and the resurrection.
If God can do all that, He can do a miracle in your life.   Your life may be empty--let the Spirit of God hover over you and come upon you.  Your life may be dark and you can't find your way or you need guidance--let God speak light into your life through His Son who is the Light of the world.

When I say, "let God", I mean trust Him to do what He promises He will do.   Gabriel told Mary, "nothing is impossible with God." (Lk. 1:37)  Literally that means, no word from God is without power.  Just as Mary believed the word of God and surrendered to it, so we can believe His promise (His Word who is the Word) and in surrendering to Him have a supernatural Christmas.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

ADVENT: Dec. 5

Read John 3:16,17   "For God so loved the world that He have is only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him has eternal life.  For God did not sent His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world should be saved through Him."

How can this be?

A man deemed to be insane penned these words on the wall of his prison cell:  "Could we with ink the ocean fill;  were the whole sky of parchment made. Were every stalk on earth a quill and every man a scribe by trade. To write love of God above would drain the ocean dry.; Nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky."

Wonderful words!  But the best description of God's love is found in  the message of Christmas and Easter.  God sent His Son.  The Son, Jesus, died for us and rose again.  All who trust in Him have eternal and abundant life now.  That message of love will see us through many things.

Oh that we would be demented enough to grasp the greatness of such love.  Such faith would see us through many a prison of doubt, worry, fear, discouragement, and resentment.  How can God come into our lives and make His home with us?  Because of His love.

ADVENT: Dec. 4

Exodus 3:1-14, 33:18-23, 34:4-7     Key Verse: Ex. 34:6  "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness."

"How can this be?"

Christmas can best be explained by the love of God.  When Moses wanted to see the glory of God, the LORD passed by and showed Moses as much as he could stand.  The words mercy, compassion, love and faithfulness jump out at me as I look at this encounter in Ex. 33 and 34.  God is describing His basic essence to Moses as that of a loving and faithful God who is willing to come to earth and reveal Himself to the human race.

I am sure that Moses' mind went back to his first wilderness encounter with God which we read about in Exodus 3.  There, God revealed Himself to Moses for the first time in the form of a burning bush.   God told Moses that He had heard the cries of His people and He had come down to rescue them.(vss. 7 & 8).  Later in the conversation, Moses asked God to give him His name.  God said " I AM WHO I AM".  It is a name that means He is the self existent One.  We pronounce it as YaHWeH and it usually appears in English Bibles as LORD(upper case letters).   To tell someone your name is to get personal with him or her.  God wants to have a personal relationship with us.  When Jesus came He said, "before Abraham was, I AM"(John 8:58), using the same wording that God had used with Moses.  Christ's meaning is obvious.  He is the same God who always is, who came down to earth and entered time to rescue His people through Moses.

Advent is a time of hope--of expectation.  Whatever you are going through, the LORD hears your cries and comes to help.    He is the One who has always been, and is able to deliver you.  He has shown that His nature is that of love, mercy, compassion, and faithfulness, so He is also able to deliver you.  Just as the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, so He will incarnate Himself into our lives if we allow Him.  You may be very low, but not too low for the LORD to come down and rescue you.  You may feel that you are on top of the world right now, but the LORD still loves you and wants to be with you to express His love to you and then on to others.  He wants to get personal with us.  He wants to show us as much about Himself as we can stand.  Let us be overwhelmed by the love of God as Moses surely was.

As Moses came down from the mountain, he had a glow that reflected the glory of the LORD.   As we learn more about God and experience Him, we are changed.  Even if we are on the mountain top and must come back down to the real world we can bring His presence with us.  In every situation the LORD loves us and will be with us.  This is the message of Christmas.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Advent: Dec. 3

Read Genesis 12:1-3, 15:1-7      Key verse Gen. 1:3b   "All the families of the earth will be blessed through you."

"How can this be?"

The question of Christmas is answered first of all by the fact that God cares about us.  In the first pages of the Bible we see how the human race messed up, big time.  The first humans disobeyed the only rule God gave them.  Their first child killed his younger brother.   Violence filled the earth.  God saved the only people worth salvaging from a great flood.  Their descendents tried to be their own gods(Gen. 11).  The world was in a mess.  But God started a long process to bring the human race back to Himself.

This reclamation project started with a man named Abram who would become Abraham.  In spite of the human condition the Lord was going to use a man.  It would be God who saved us, but He would use humans in a long process that would lead to the Lord Himself becoming a man.   Why God chose Abram and ultimately  his descendents to be line for the Christmas event is a question which only  the Lord Himself knows the answer.  But we can certainly surmise that it was out of His own goodness and greatness that the Lord chose Abram and chooses us.

There is a Dennis the Menace cartoon in which Dennis and a friend are eating cookies baked by Mrs. Wilson.   The friend comments to Dennis that he must be awfully good for Mrs. Wilson to bake him such good goodies.  Dennis astutely remarks that Mrs. Wilson made him the cookies, not because he is so good, but because Mrs. Wilson is so good.  God loves us and saves us, not based on our goodness but His. 

Your world may be a mess.  But Christ came into our world to fix it and to fix us.  He will come to everyone who will receive Him and be a blessing.  Dennis had to eat the cookies to enjoy it and we must have faith in Christ to enjoy His salvation.   You may be a saved person in a terrible mess.  You can never be so far away from God that He can't help you.  No problem is too big for Him.  He said to Mary, "Nothing is impossible with God"  This Advent season gives us hope because we know that God cares.  He proved it beginning with Adam, Eve, Abraham and many others, completing it in Christ.  He will come into every heart that opens up to Him and lets Him in (Rev. 3:20).   A good Christmas prayer is, "O holy child of Bethlehem!  Descend to us, we pray;  Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

ADVENT: Dec. 2

Read Genesis 3:1-9 Key verse: Gen. 3:9 "Where are you?"

"How can this be?"

Mary's question has many implications for us. When pondering Christmas we might ask, "How can God even care about us?"
The first man and woman had it great in the garden of Eden. They were in charge of looking after the creation. They lived in a beautiful place and they only had one rule. They were told that if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would die.

Can you imagine only one rule? When you were a teenager, how would you have loved it if your parents had said the only rule is do not stay out at night past 3am? Don't you think you could have lived with that and been able to obey? Adam and Eve had it made! One rule--and a very easy one to obey. And not only that--they had a perfect relationship with God. They were His very image. And they gave it all up by listening to the serpent's lie.

The devil convinced them that God did not have their best interests at heart, that He was holding out on them. So they ate the fruit and immediately were ashamed, hiding from God. But God came looking for them, calling out, "Where are you?" God then took the life of an innocent animal and covered their nakedness and shame.

Our sins have caused us great harm and shame. But God is a god of love. He has come looking for us even as we have tried to hide from Him. He calls out to us, "Where are you?", not because He doesn't know where we are, but because He wants us to know that He cares. How could God care for us? Because He is God and He is love. He even became the innocent Lamb of God, shedding His blood to cover our shame.

The first prophecy of the advent of Christ is given by God as He prepares to redeem a now-fallen world, saying that the seed of the woman would one day crush the head of the serpent(Gen. 3:15). Prepare for Christ by understanding that God is a great and loving God who cared enough to send His very best.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


December 1
Read Luke 1:26-38
Luke 1:34    "How can this be?"
Maybe like me you are in awe over the whole concept of God becoming a man.  The angel Gabriel paid a visit to a virgin teenage woman named Mary to tell her, "You will conceive and give birth to a son...The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David and He will reign over  Israel forever; his kingdom will have no end."(Luke 1:31-33)  Mary was naturally confused so she asked, "How can this be?"

This question is likely the one we all ask at one time or another.  There are times in our lives when we are unproductive, discouraged, alone, afraid, guilty, unloved, confused,  helpless or resentful.  We wonder if God cares, if He wants to do something about it, if He can do something, how He might do it,  what role we are expected to play, why we might deserve it, and/or what will others think.

Christmas is a great mystery.  The incarnation is a supernatural act o f God that boggles the mind.  Advent is a good time to ponder the coming of Christ and to plan how we should receive Him.  Let's just remember that God is God.  He can do anything He wants to do and He loves us.  You may be in a tight situation and see no way out.  Just remember that just as the Son of God became a man to save a lost world, He can come into your world to deliver you from your affliction.  How He will do so is His decision and is done in His way.  All he asks is that we ask and that we invite Him into our lives.  "I am the Lord's servant" was Mary's response and it is a good one for us as well.  Total surrender to Him opens the door for God's activity in our lives.   
The devotional thoughts of this Advent season will follow this theme over the next 24 days.  "How can this be?"  A good question which I will attempt to answer through the Word of God.