Celebrating THE Baby

Three weeks after Christmas, on a day we were putting away some Christmas decorations, our family was studying Hebrews 8. As I was listening to the verses being read, I was overcome with joy of the Good News being described. At the conclusion of the chapter, I shouted HALLELUJAH!, leading to a surprised and puzzled six year old.

This chapter describes Jesus as the new, better, eternal covenant for God’s people! Hallelujah – to God be praised!! As best I could, I explained to my son why this is amazing news for us. God is so merciful!

When we look at Luke 2, our passage for today’s journal entry focuses on Jesus as a baby. He’s born in Bethlehem and the very next thing is the angel and heavenly hosts appear to the shepherds, share the news, and proclaim Glory to God! The shepherds went and found baby Jesus and then they shared this with others and praised God!

Christmas is a season that draws our hearts to the Lord and closer to one another, and is an opportunity to celebrate the Good News of who Jesus is, and how he came to save us. In general, babies represent hope for the future, newness and freshness, the miracle of life. And Jesus as a baby brings us so much more than that. Each year I’m challenged to keep Christmas in our hearts a bit longer, and not let the excitement of the good news be put away when the nativity is carefully packaged back up, when we take down the tree, and all the celebrations are over.

I love the example that the angels and shepherds gave us at the birth of Jesus – they wasted no time in telling others and praising the Lord!  In a few months we will celebrate and remember this perfect and complete gift from God, as Jesus becomes our sacrifice and then defeats the grave. Between now and then, will you join me in keeping the excitement and gratitude of this gift alive? What are some practical ways we can continue to share and worship like the angels and shepherds did? I’d love some ideas from others!

 

 

Savior Baby

Nineteen years ago, Adam Nash was born. His birth was meticulously planned and while his parents always wanted another child, he was brought into the world with an additional purpose: to provide cord blood to his older sister, dying of Fanconi Anaemia. It was a medical success, and since then there have been more children conceived through IVF, carrying specific genetic makeup to provide for sick siblings. Isn’t science mind-blowing? As you can imagine, this brought up a lot of ethical and moral questions. News articles, interviews, books and movies have all followed these cases and told their stories. They’ve coined these genetically designed children as Savior Siblings and Savior Babies.

I’ve only read a few articles, am not an expert or speaking from a specific position. I am so grateful that I’ve never had to weigh options like this to save my child. The articles I’ve read span in language, from “win-win” to “commoditizing children”.

When we come to Luke 1:31-33 we find Mary, being informed that she will give birth to the Son of the Lord God. We don’t know exactly when it was revealed to Mary that this meant he was the Messiah and Savior (Hebrews 10 gives some additional insight). God came to earth, in perfect flesh with a body to make atonement for our sins. The planned Redeemer was born to walk with us, teach us, and die for us.

As we enjoy our Christmas celebrations and see the nativity sets with baby Jesus in the Manger, host Jesus Birthday parties, and rejoice with song and be merry… let’s also remember that He came for one purpose. For you and for me.

Our family has been doing a daily devotion together of the Names of Jesus. He’s the Way, the Root of David, the Good Shepard, the Alpha and Omega, to name a few of the twenty-nine name. As we’ve been reading about each of these, I’m humbled at the fullness of Jesus as a human and all the while coming with the purpose to reunite me with God. To secure my eternity in heaven through the redemption of my sins. The picture of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying to his Father to take the cup from him shows his flesh. The fully human side of Jesus knew the suffering he would endure on the cross. He was born that night in the stable, completely aware of the physical and emotional anguish he would go through.

Baby Jesus in the manger, is our Guide, our Friend, our Healer, He was born to be our Savior and our Sacrifice.

The Word Became Flesh

Good morning friends! As my son would say, “It’s Christmas Evening!” Jesus’ birth is upon us today and I’m wondering how you are? Are you surrounded by friends and family this morning or are you welcoming Him in a more quiet and personal way? Whether you are experiencing the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ or experiencing the need for peace, I’m so glad you’re here. Although the primary focus of today will be Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus, I’d like to share another scripture with you:

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

I wrote down several verses in preparation for my post today. I came up with about 10 different verses that have held me up when I needed them most. But this morning I opened my bible and this one was underlined. Three years ago around this time I was asked by a total stranger to write for Bible Journal. I’m not sure why I said yes! I don’t have any qualifications and certainly didn’t have experience with Christian theology. I had no way of knowing the personal and spiritual challenges that lay just a few short months ahead. I know now that it wasn’t a stranger in the form of BJ Armstrong asking me to study and write. It was God, inviting me to go deeper in His word and develop my relationship with Him. The Word has truly become flesh for me in the hands that have reached out to our family and the feet that have walked the miles with us. As I sit down to write to you for the last time tonight I can testify that I have seen His glory. John says, “The Word became flesh…”in other words it became human. By doing so, Jesus became our perfect teacher. As we celebrate Jesus’ birth today, he truly becomes flesh in our lives. He goes on to become a model of what we are to become. Those who welcome Jesus as Lord of their lives are reborn spiritually, receiving new life from God. Through faith in Christ, this new birth changes us from the inside out. Jesus is born today. We don’t have to wait until the new year to reaffirm our faith and put our trust in Him! 

I am grateful to each one of you for reading our posts but more importantly, I am grateful to you for helping me to grow. If it wasn’t for you andthe Monday morning deadline, I wouldn’t have come to know God as I do now! To the rest of the Bible Journal team, I am forever humbled by your wisdom and grace. I wish you all a very blessed Christmas season. I look forward to reading with you each day and promise to guest post a time or two for my beloved Mr. McGriff. 

The love of Christ be with you-

Jillian

The Plans He Has

“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.  For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfareand not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

Jeremiah 29:10-14

Well hello Bible Journal readers, another Monday is upon us! How are you feeling? I think of you and pray for you at the beginning of each week. I hope that you are finding joy and some peace in this holiday season. In these final days of the year, we have the opportunity to share a verse or two with you that is close to our heart. Jeremiah 29:11 has always been a foundational piece of the word for our family. I wrote these words on a small piece of paper the night before our son had a very important brain MRI in 2011. That small scrap of paper has been there ever since. We rely on these words to remind us that God will indeed fulfill his promises, that he has plans for us that are good and that he doesn’t ever harm us.

I had to go back to that little scrap of paper this week for the first time in a long time. A friend of ours died very suddenly in a place that was not his home and in a way that brought more questions than will ever be answers. It’s been a long time since I have questioned in the “but why God” sort of way. Honestly, I thought I was more mature in my faith journey than that, but this event changed things. This extinguished life without a why brought on unexpected waves of grief and anger. Have you ever had a rock bottom moment like that in your faith journey? I rolled it around in my mind looking for the grace or maybe a hint of mercy in the situation, but I couldn’t see it. I came back to my foundational verse, Jeremiah 29:11 and I got even more angry. There is no hope or future for our friend so what is the plan?When it came time to write today, I went back to my Bible, flipping pages looking for inspiration and came back to Jeremiah. For the first time in a very long time I began at the beginning:

“These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.” Jeremiah 29:1

 These are the words. The words of the letter. The letter sent to the exiles. So, before the exiles got this letter they were just exiles. In fact, I noticed for the very first time in the ten years that I have been frequently this page of my Bible that the name of this chapter is, “Jeremiah’s Letter to the Exiles” All along it’s been really helpful and comforting to read that part about God’s plan for hope and a future but I sort of missed the point. Without a period of exile, we can’t experience the hope and the future. Without the separation or exile from that which we hold dear, we can’t truly know Him. Shoot, I forgot that being a Christian does not guarantee that we’ll be protected from really hard things. It doesn’t mean that we’ll have an easy life without the broken parts. It does mean that when the really hard things happen that we will know to seek Him. And when we seek Him, He finds us. He finds us in the darkest dark when all we have left is to cling to Him with our whole heart. There may never be answers but there will berestoration.

If I’m writing to you today, I hope you find comfort and hope in this message. I hope you see that all Christ followers have a bottom of the barrel “whyGod” moment. We are all in exile some of the time. As Christmas draws near, I hope you’ll go to Him with all your heart. Pour out your hopes to Him and ask Him to intercede with good in your life. If you are approaching this holiday with trepidation because you are broken, go to Him. If you are reading this and you are not sure if He has a plan for you, go to Him and ask.

Have a great week!

 

God With Us

Mark 2, Psalm 136

Sometimes I wonder what God was thinking.  Why did he create us? You see every day, we do things that are contrary to his nature.  Contrary to his purpose for us.  We even attempt to replace him with something different, yet God persists.  As I wonder why, I am drawn to Psalm 136.    Its author has taken the time to identify why  and how God works.

To start, we must think about who God is.  The Psalmist reminds us that He is good.  He is the God of God and Lord of Lords.  He does great wonders and created the heavens.  He made the earth, the lights, the sun and the moon.  He ordered them perfectly.  He struck Israel’s enemy and delivered them into freedom.  He is mighty and caring at the same time, able to part an entire sea.  He uses  this miraculous work to protect those he loves and to destroy to their enemies.  He led his people through the wilderness, striking down and killing great and mighty kings.  He takes their territory and gives it to those who love him.  He doesn’t care about his servants position, high or low.  He cares and provides for us in every situation. 

These are powerful words about our great God and his abilities.  If you are like me, you ask why.  Why would this God do such things for us?  More directly, why would he do them for me?  He knows that I am unruly and rebellious. The Psalmist gets it right with one simple word.  Love.  In my attempt to define what love is, I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.  It says,

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.

Yes this describes God’s love for us.  In fact, God is so patient, so kind, so caring that he sent his own son, to live among us.  You see, real love doesn’t sit on the throne looking down.  Real love comes along side us.  Real love is personal.  Real love is messy.  This is why Jesus was born.  This is why he is called Emmanuel.  It means “God with us.”  

His love endures forever!

Emmanuel – God With US , Mercy Me

 

The Christmas Story Continues

Revelation chapter 12 gives us the truth about Christmas. It is about the eternal destiny of all mankind. It is about war, Satan and his angels, Michael and his angels, God, a virgin birth, a mass murder of infants by evil in high places and principalities of this world and, Praise God, Christ’s ultimate victory. But it doesn’t stop there. It is not just a historical view. It reaches forward to where we are now and where we are headed. The Christmas story continues. It helps us understand the realities of the post war world we are living in.

Often times when thinking about a past war, victors will recall images of celebration. Their post war snap shots are flooded with newspaper headlines that read “Peace!” or “It’s Over!”. These types of images often come from the victors territory and can give the victors a false sense of finality. The war may have been won but the reality may be that the victory was the beginning of the end, not the actual end. However on the other hand the losers’ dominion presents a very different picture. One that is easier to discern; the war has been won, but battles still rage and lives still hang in the balance. 

On the other side the picture will often look something like this; failed states left in ruins, void of leadership and often rampant with lawlessness. The victors have left behind remnants of their soldiers to help the failed state find their way. These soldiers are most always up against remnants of a different sort, remnants of the enemy. 

Post war, the enemy most often deploys a covert strategy. They go underground to continue the fight covertly, doing all they can undermine the victor’s agenda and to strengthen their camp. What seems to motivate them is the hope of carrying their agenda forward at some future time. Living to fight another day. History has shown us that of these sorts the worst is often the hopeless. The ones who know they will never gain the strength to ultimately win but deceive and give false hope to that end anyway. Who still refuse to let go of their agenda and determine themselves to ‘take as many with them’ to their hopeless end as possible.

The end of Revelation chapter 12 makes it clear, the War is won but not over. the battle still rages and Christians are in enemy territory. The enemy is present, powerful and hopeless. In my estimation, a Christian’s role then is that of the remnant of the victor in enemy territory post war, there to help people find their way to the right side. There to provide a beacon of truth amidst all the undercurrents of deception. There to save people from hopelessness.

Perhaps this is the gift of Christmas that Christians wield in post war enemy territory. The light that Christians have been given to shine in the shadow of deceit and through the darkness of hopelessness that the enemy works so hard to create. May your light shine this Christmas season. May your Christmas be merry and bright!

 

Today’s reading: 2 Chronicles 25; Revelation 12; Zechariah 8; John 11

Suggestions for prayer: Ask God to help you steward the gift of Christmas well for Him. Ask Him to help you give the gift of Christmas.

And this is love

4 I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father. 5 And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. 6 And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. -2 John 1:4-6

And this is love, walking in the truth. And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. To love others is to do right by the Word. What better way to love others than to deny yourself, to put down your will and replace it with the one will that is perfect in truth?

Christmas time is full of ideas for what sort of things we can gift others. This Christmas season what if we considered improving our walk with the LORD as the best gift to give? What if we considered studying what our LORD commands us to do in truth, memorizing scripture and taking it with us each day, as the best way to love each other.  How is your walk with the LORD? May it be full of love in truth!  

Today’s reading: 2 Chronicles 7; 2 John 1; Habakkuk 2; Luke 21

Suggestions for prayer: Ask the LORD to help you keep the truth in Christmas, to keep your eye single on Him and His joy as we approach this season to celebrate with family and friends.  

For further study: Here is a list of sermons from a sermon series titled the Pillars of Christian Character. When considering how I need to improve my walk with the LORD in order to love others well, this series continues to hit home. Consider selecting one and listening to a bit of it on the way to work. These and other great series are also handy in the app store: Apple, Android, Windows.

Painting: Road to Emmaus by Robert Zund, 1877

All I want for Christmas

Christmas time is something I look forward to all year round. I have been known to say “it’s almost Christmas” in June and July and I certainly do not follow the unwritten rule of waiting to play Christmas music until after Thanksgiving. But now that Thanksgiving has past my excitement for Christmas seems a little more in place. One of the reasons I look forward to Christmas is that I really enjoy exchanging gifts. It helps me get out self, out of what I want and it helps me focus on others.

From today’s reading a header in Michah chapter 5 ESV reads ‘The Ruler to Be Born in Bethlehem’. God gives us a perfect example of being focused on others. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows exactly what we need. And on the ‘first Christmas’ He gave us the perfect gift. When we celebrate Christmas we all try to find that perfect gift. It requires us to know people and to be thinking about them, focused on them and wanting better for them. We give gifts the best way we know how.

This Christmas may we all consider giving the gift of ourselves to our Savior and to His children. May we all lay down our wills, our kingdoms, and allow Him to reign in our hearts. May we store up treasure in heaven by letting go of the stuff of this world and giving to those in need, that which we have been given in so much excess.

12 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” – Luke 14: 12-14

It’s almost Christmas!