The month of February is usually thought of as the love month. I have no deep words to share today. Just my special love wish for you…
Where life and death bump into each other and life wins.
Nain, a village in southwestern Galilee six miles southeast of Nazareth on the northern edge of the Plain of Esdraelon.
Though set on a bleak, rocky slope, the village boasts access to the most fertile farmland in the Valley of Jezreel…
…where rock and soil meet.
Nain lives up to its definition: delightful, pleasantness, green pastures, and lovely by opening out to a vast and beautiful vista across the plain to Carmel, over the Nazareth hills, and out past Mount Tabor to the east and even to the glistening, white peaks of Mount Hermon, a great distance away to the north.
The valley is a sea of living vegetation, awash in the brilliant colors of creation. A balmy breeze flutters waves of emerald grass while wafting the fragrance of blossoming fruit trees and wildflowers across the valley.
But in this idyllic valley, teeming with life, is bereavement. A funeral procession departs the village gate, withdrawing the dead from the center of living.
A young man has died, the only son of a widow. While the balmy breezes blow in the valley, a wintery wind whirls in the heart of this widow, now slumped over in her own valley of grief.
Trailing in the wake of the burial bier is the wailing mother, relatives, friends, and other lamenters from the village, all dressed in their mourning garments.
As the group following death departs the city in sorrow, a group following Life waits to enter in joy. Jesus and His disciples stand aside so as not to bump into the death brigade.
At the gate…where death and life meet.
As tears drench this mother’s face, Jesus’ heart fills with deep compassion and He tenderly says to her, “Do not weep.”
He turns to the bier, as those carrying it stop. Laying His hands on it, He commands, “Young man, I say to you, get up!”
Resurrected from the dead and filled with life, the boy sits up and begins to talk.
Where death and life meet…and life wins!
Both crowds erupt in great rejoicing and praising. And the word of the miracle spreads throughout the region.
We are the dead, living yet dead in sin, until we meet Jesus, the Giver of Life. Because of Christ’s deep compassion, He touches the death bier of our lives, resurrecting us and filling us with His Life.
In Him, here death and life meet…
“I am the one who brings people back to life, and I am life itself. Those who believe in Me will live even if they die. Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe that?” (John 11:25-26 GW)
…and life wins. Eternally! For “God…gives life to the dead.” (Rom. 4:17 NKJV)
Are you finished with your Christmas shopping? No? Me neither.
For those on your list, what might give to…
These quote contains some very special gift suggestions. How you ever given these?
“Christmas gift suggestions: to your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.” (Oren Arnold)
But we give gifts to everyone but the One whose birthday we celebrate.
My favorite Christmas movie, possibly my favorite of all time, is The Bishop’s Wife (and no, NOT The Preacher’s Wife). Dudley is an angel (played by Cary Grant), who comes to earth to visit the household of Bishop Henry Brougham (played by David Niven), his wife Julia (played by Loretta Young), and their young daughter in answer to the bishop’s prayer for guidance.
(If you’ve never seen it, watch for it. If you get channel AMC, it will air Sunday, 12/18, at 1:15 a.m. EST. You can check your time. Don’t miss it. Record it!)
The end of the movie culminates on Christmas Eve at midnight with Henry delivering the sermon he believes he has written, though Dudley is actually the one who has penned it.
It goes like this…
“Tonight, I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking.
Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child’s cry, a blazing star hung over a stable, and wise men came with birthday gifts.
We haven’t forgotten that night down the centuries; we celebrate it with stars on the Christmas trees, with the sound of bells, and with gifts. But especially with gifts.
You give me a book; I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer, and Uncle Henry could do with a new pipe.
Oh, we forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled, all, that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up: the stocking for the child born in a manger. It’s His birthday we’re celebrating. Don’t let us ever forget that.
Let us ask ourselves what He would wish for most and then, let each put in his share: lovingkindness, warm hearts, and a stretched-out hand of tolerance. All the shining gifts make peace on earth.”
The Father shared of Himself and sent His Son into the world.
The Lord gave of His heart; what gift of your heart do you give Christ this year?
Do you bring sacrificial gifts to the Christ-child out of your heart’s treasury? Gifts like the purity of holiness? The costly fragrance of continual prayer? A cleansed soul, preserved from eternal death?
Do you offer Him your heart as His manger, as an empty vessel for His resting place? Or is it full of jealousy, envy, hatred, unforgiveness, self-pity, lust, anger, or prejudice?
Do you leave Him no room to “lay down His sweet head”? Have you said, “Sorry, there is no room for You in this inn”?
Give the Babe of the manger the lodging place He deserves. Give Him the gift of your heart.
May your Christmas be blessed with a special touch of the Lord’s presence. (Christmas Gift of the Heart)
Within the story of Naomi and Ruth is this portion I wrote in my book (as yet to be published, if ever). Since we are entering the season of Advent, I pray this may bless you and dwell deep within your hearts.
It all started with Naomi in the little town of Bethlehem. Biblical names have always held great significance, so, to understand where Naomi lived, we first need to look at Bethlehem’s description.
Bethlehem’s original name was Ephratah (meaning fruitfulness or fruitful land) and was sometimes used in the shortened version as Ephrath. Located about five to six miles south of Jerusalem (meaning possession of peace, foundation of peace, or teaching of peace), Bethlehem is nestled in the district of Judah (meaning praise).
Tucked in among the fertile hills of this land of praise lay this quiet, little village. Later, a shepherd boy would pasture his father’s flocks in these fields and sing them the praises of his God. Much later, heavenly songs of praise would ascend above the fields, filling the atmosphere with angelic voices, welcoming the Redeemer of the world born here.
This little village became known as Bethlehem-Ephratah and eventually became Bethlehem (meaning house of bread).
Do you see anything in all that? If not, look again. As the lineage of Christ came through the bloodline of Judah, the land of praise birthed “the Bread of God” (John 6:33 AMPC) from heaven. The House of Bread dwelt in the fruitful land of praise!
Life depended upon the harvests of the grains, which depended upon the rains. As the sustenance of life, bread was, in a sense, considered sacred, as a gift of God through His benevolence to allow the rain and the harvests. It remained a daily reminder of man’s unbroken dependence upon God for His provision, evidenced in the prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matt. 6:11 NKJV)
Our spiritual food, as the Living Bread, rests in the midst of the field of our praise. “Lord, give us this bread always.” (John 6:34 NKJV)
In this celebration season of Christ’s birth, as our schedules multiple, let us take time to remember where it all started. In God’s House. In His heart of love. And sent us His Son, the Living One, the Living Bread, to dwell in our midst. Our Immanuel. God with us. Our Daily Bread forever.
May you find that Living Bread in the midst of your praise!
How many Christians do you know? How many are genuine and how many are, well, what you might label as hypocrites?
Many times, the world sees us as hypocrites. Mainly because we are not an example of God’s kindness and love.
I don’t want to be a faker. A pretender. An actor hiding behind a mask. I don’t want to be a Pharisee. Jesus called them hypocrites.
On one occasion, Jesus called the scribes and Pharisees whitewashed tombs. He said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, pretenders (hypocrites)! For you are like tombs that have been whitewashed, which look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything impure.” (Matt. 23:27 AMPC) Dead men walking. Stinky zombies.
In God’s eyes, all the hypocrites’ outward whitewashing could never camouflage their inward corruption, for their hearts were merely tombs of rottenness. Their outward confession of dedication belied their inward condition of denial! They possessed the bones of the Law but not the flesh of the Word!
What made the veins on Jesus’ neck pop out? His face turn red? His blood pressure rise? The self-righteous hypocrites!
The scary part about being a hypocrite?
1) Not entering the Kingdom.
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned the multitude to have a Kingdom-entering righteousness rather than the for-show righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, otherwise, “you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:20b NKJV)
2) Being a stumbling block to others.
Jesus delivered a diatribe one day against the deceivers, saying, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, pretenders (hypocrites)! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces; for you neither enter yourselves, nor do you allow those who are about to go in to do so.” (Matt. 23:13 AMPC)
Whoa! Because of a terminal heart condition, a hypocrite not only is denied entrance to heaven but is also a stumbling block for others to enter.
3) Our worship may be a farce.
The Pharisees were adept at offering feigned worship. In their deluded efforts to worship God, they displayed only an external act of worship, while the internal contents of their hearts were of no concern to them. They concluded that, if a person carried out the external rites of religion, even though harboring spitefulness, envy, hatred, and being at odds with his brethren, he worshipped well.
Jesus scolded them, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was prophesying about you when he said, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away. Their worship is a farce.’” (Matt. 15:7-9a NLT)
4) Loss of fellowship with the Lord.
The offerings of a hypocritical heart will not bring one into fellowship with the Lord, for one must “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” (Ps. 29:2 NKJV) And in spirit and truth.
God desires a true heart of worship and lips that confess His Name positively and in truth, as Jesus said, “The true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.” (John 4:23 NKJV)
If our fellowship is lost, we can always regain it through repentance. However, as John said, “So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness. We are not living in the truth.” (1 John 1:6 NLT) Truth!
Oh, how I desire to have a sincere heart and be a true worshipper! May I never give lip service to God while my heart is filled with who knows what. May I never wear a pharisaical mask of piety nor feign my love for the Lord, or feign my love for others, while stabbing them in the back.
I pray, as David did, not to be a stumbling block, “O Lord God…don’t let me be a stumbling block to those who trust in you. O God of Israel, don’t let me cause them to be confused.” (Ps. 69:6 TLB)
“And when they came near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples on ahead, saying to them, ‘Go into the village that is opposite you, and at once you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie [them] and bring [them] to Me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall reply, The Lord needs them, and he will let them go without delay.’
“This happened that what was spoken by the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, ‘Say to the Daughter of Zion [inhabitants of Jerusalem], “Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey [a beast of burden].”’
“Then the disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and laid their coats upon them, and He seated Himself on them [the clothing].
“And most of the crowd kept spreading their garments on the road, and others kept cutting branches from the trees and scattering them on the road.
“And the crowds that went ahead of Him and those that followed Him kept shouting, ‘Hosanna (O be propitious, graciously inclined) to the Son of David, [the Messiah]! Blessed (praised, glorified) is He Who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna (O be favorably disposed) in the highest [heaven]!’
“And when He entered Jerusalem, all the city became agitated and [trembling with excitement] said, ‘Who is This?’” (Matt. 21:1-10 AMPC)
He was born in an obscure village
The child of a peasant woman
He grew up in another obscure village
Where he worked in a carpenter shop
Until he was thirty when public opinion turned against him
He never wrote a book
He never held an office
He never went to college
He never visited a big city
He never travelled more than two hundred miles
From the place where he was born
He did none of the things
Usually associated with greatness
He had no credentials but himself
He was only thirty three
His friends ran away
One of them denied him
He was turned over to his enemies
And went through the mockery of a trial
He was nailed to a cross between two thieves
While dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing
The only property he had on earth
When he was dead
He was laid in a borrowed grave
Through the pity of a friend
Nineteen centuries have come and gone
And today Jesus is the central figure of the human race
And the leader of mankind’s progress
All the armies that have ever marched
All the navies that have ever sailed
All the parliaments that have ever sat
All the kings that ever reigned put together
Have not affected the life of mankind on earth
As powerfully as that one solitary life
Dr. James Allan Francis
“And the crowds replied, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee.’” (Matt. 21:11 AMPC)
“Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey.” (Zech. 9:9 NKJV)
As tradition has it, around the year 1500, Martin Luther put the first lights on a tree. One clear, cold Christmas Eve, while Luther walked in the woods nearby, composing a sermon, he was awestruck by the brilliance of the evergreens as the moonlight shimmered on the snow-covered branches.
To recapture the resplendent sight, he set up a tree in his home to share his experience with his children. Decorating it with candles, he lighted it in honor of Christ’s birth.
I have come to be just as awestruck at the sight of our tree as Luther was at his and desire to have his same attitude. And for this reason, Tree has become very special to me. Though an artificial object, his beauty represents something much deeper.
Every year after Thanksgiving, we bring Tree up from his long respite in the basement, and we place him in his designated place of honor in our family room. He always seems nude and embarrassed until we, er, uh-hum, I dress him.
Taking his garb from the boxes in storage, I begin to play dress-up. First, I tuck in small dolls and bears close to his trunk, which are barely visible, yet resting securely upon his limbs.
Then, I hang the ornaments, ones that sparkle, are old-fashioned, or made of glass, while others are wooden. Interlaced with snowflakes, bows, white lace angels, stick stars, candles, candy canes, and tiny white lights are others either I or our kids have made, someone has generously given us, or belonged to my mother.
Baby’s breath fills in the gaps and peeks out from among the branches. A red plaid piece of fabric loosely drapes around Tree’s feet, along with the “ancient” crèche, the one I played with for hours when I was very young, arranging and re-arranging Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the wise men, and all the animals.
Encircling Tree is a beautiful plaid ribbon for his garland, and his crowning glory is one special angel: that’s Harold, you know.
When all decked out in his finery, he stands proud, overwhelming the corner of the room. He appears stationed only as a backdrop for the ornaments he displays. He is content to hold them up, to give them the safety of resting on his branches. He seems at peace and oblivious to the blowing snow and chilling winds outside his comfy surroundings.
When the ornament boxes are empty and Tree is laden to capacity, he seems to heave a sigh of relief, as if complete for the season. Beautified and glorious. Abiding in the present. His back to the past. His face to the hope of a better new year.
Sometimes at night, I turn off all the lights in the room except Tree’s lights, and those on the mantle. I sit and stare at Tree’s breath-taking radiance.
As I sit in the glow of the tiny lights, I envision Tree to be, as Isaiah says, that Branch of the Lord, which “shall be beautiful and glorious.” I imagine Jesus standing in the corner, tall and majestic, overflowing the room with His presence. I can almost smell that marvelous fragrance of costly frankincense and myrrh brought at Jesus’ birth.
I picture the ornaments, dolls, and bears as all the beautiful jewels of royal fashioning, the souls that decorate the Lord in different positions of closeness to Him. While some snuggle up next to Him, others perch in varying positions on His limbs, some in close, some out on the fringe. Christ’s sigh of completion comes only when each of His ornaments is in its rightful place.
I visualize the baby’s breath as the restorative breath of God, filling in all the gaps of life. The lights symbolize the light of Christ coming into the world and illuminating the objects of His love hanging around Him.
The garland of plaid ribbon depicts the adornment of the Holy Spirit, wrapping around the body of Christ, holding us all together. Sprinkled in among the ornaments sit more angels, reminding me that He gives His angels charge over me, to keep me in all my ways.
Then, there is Harold, the angel sitting atop it all, always looking toward the New Year. No matter what has happened in the year drawing its last breath, he seems to point to the peace of a better future.
As I sit in the dark, I bask in the warmth and love our Tree gives me, whether there are presents at his feet or not. I smile in acknowledgement of his beauty and he seems to smile back at me, as if to say, “It’s okay. Next year will be better. I will live in your heart, for I am evergreen.” And that speaks to me of eternal life.
It reminds me of Scripture, “I am living and strong! I look after you and care for you. I am like an evergreen tree, yielding my fruit to you throughout the year. My mercies never fail.” (Hosea 14:8 TLB)
This year, I wish each of you a Tree of your own, a Tree of remembrance. May you stand as Christ, your back be to the contrary circumstances of the year behind, your feet firmly planted in the present, and your heart guarded with the hope of a better new year. May you snuggle up close to the Lord, causing a smile on His face that you are in your rightful place.
May you be filled with peace, joy, and comfort. I wish you a most blessed Christmas.
***I’m sorry this was rather long this time. I couldn’t seem to shorten it.
She stared out the window of the cheap motel room. For now, it was all she could afford on her disability check after new owners threw her out of her apartment.
A flurry of snow blew sideways outside the window. She shivered. Heat struggled to escape the pipes, causing her to tug at the sweater she had retrieved from the trash bin.
The tracks she had made earlier in the snow as she walked back from the corner mart were now covered. From the pan on the hot plate arose the aroma of hot chocolate, transforming the stagnant air in the room to something a little homier.
Alone. Her husband left her for someone else. The weight of her failing relationship with her daughter punctured her heart, as if a scalpel had ripped open her flesh and spilled out her life’s blood onto the tattered and grimy carpet.
Many did not care to help, and those who did care could only help a little, while others just weren’t able to give her the financial help she needed.
Her eyes pooled with tears. Though normally upbeat and thankful in all things, she now felt just as worn out as the old sweater wrapped around her.
Christmas! Bah! Humbug! she thought. Christmas, this year, would be non-existent for her.
As she stared out the window at the lone street light on the corner, glowing in the night through the blasting snowfall, her thoughts drifted off to another time and another place. Back to a time when, as a missionary in another land, she was invited to dinner by a family living in a small, rundown hut.
The dirty carpet beneath her feet reminded her of their dirt floor; the streetlight glowing in the night reminded her of the only light in their hut, a small candle half burned away.
In her mind, she could see the kids running around the hut happily playing chase; she could hear their laughter. She also recalled the father and mother joyously praising God for all they had. She remembered their love and tenderness as they shared a meager meal with her. A slight smile began to replace her frown.
Her feelings of self-pity and discouragement felt like hot liquid draining from her heart, running down her legs and right out her toes, while grace and love spilled back into her from heaven’s lap, coursing through her veins.
Forgive me, Father, she sighed.
The meaning of Christmas flooded her soul. She imagined another cold night with a bright light, the night Mary gave birth to Jesus and a glowing star lit the way to His presence.
She remembered the Reason for the Season…Love. The Love of God. Love came down in a pink earth-suit, bringing new birth with Him.
Staring at the streetlight and the falling snow, she started to hum. As tears streamed down her face, a smile gently spread across her face and the words to the song tumbled out…
Silent night, Holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth.
Mumbling “the dawn of redeeming grace,” she lay down on the old mattress, grateful for a warm place to stay. Praying for a better tomorrow and vowing to help another less fortunate than she on Christmas day, she fell asleep.
~Depressing, huh? Not everyone will have a merry Christmas. This happens all across the world. With differing circumstances. Know anyone like this? I do. Though I’m not able to help her financially right now, I pray for her every day…many times. And I know the Lord will bless her mightily for her faith.
But Christmas is still a joyous time; no matter what is going on around us. It is a time of giving. The birth of Love. If you know the true Reason for the Season, be sure to pass on this Love to others. All. Year. Long.
That’s what Jesus came for. That’s what He died for. Love!
May there be a glowing star in your dark night to light the way to His presence, and may you have a Love-filled, Redeeming-Grace-filled, and Joy-filled Christmas!
***Hope you don’t mind a Christmas rerun from 2013.
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” (Is. 7:14 NKJV)
…and they waited. Hundreds of years.
Then, the prophecies were fulfilled…
Secreted behind the veil of eternity, the Word existed, and in the fullness of time, God ripped that celestial veil from the heavenly top to the earthly bottom to fully reveal His Son.
As Mary prepared her heart to make room for her son, God prepared the heart of the earth to make room for His Son.
“And (Mary) brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7 KJV)
So, the Advent King came in straw-lined splendor. God incarnate threw off His robe of immortal royalty and dressed Himself in a tiny, pink suit of mortality, and from the birth-manger to the death-tomb, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14 NKJV)
This was Jesus. The Word of God. Immanuel. Wonderful. Counselor. Mighty God. Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace. A Name above every name.
That Name above every name has…
*shut the gates of hell
*turned away tornadoes
*given sight to the blind
*given hearing to the deaf
*opened the portals of heaven
*brought salvation to lost souls
*given the lame the ability to walk
*delivered those oppressed by demons
*saved the lives of those in car wrecks
*healed limbs, ears, eyes, and other diseases
*and even brought some back from death’s grip.
Dependence on that Name for every detail of life is essential.
What do you do with this Jesus, this Name above all names? Do you call on that Name? Do you totally depend on that Name? Do you live a lifestyle that upholds that Precious and Wonderful Name?
Maybe your soul is suffering this year. Maybe you have lost a loved one. Maybe divorce has ripped your family apart. Maybe your best friend has deserted you. Maybe your child is out of a job or has gotten into trouble. Maybe foreclosure is knocking at your door.
Or maybe you are one of the fortunate ones who isn’t suffering any dire circumstances right now. Maybe you are just rushed and busy.
But is there still no “room in the inn”? No room in your heart?
Christmas is the celebration of Christ’s birth. But in the hustle and bustle of the season’s preparations, we get bogged down with the preparations of the holiday. Yet, we make no preparations in our hearts for the true celebration of Christ’s presence with us.
Where does Jesus go to be cradled today? In the manger-hearts of believers. Do we make room for the Manger Babe to come and “lay down His sweet head”?
Have you anticipated His coming? Have you prepared your heart’s room for Him?
I pray that whatever is going on in your life, you will take time to bring honor to that precious Name. May you celebrate this season because of His Name.
“Joy to the world! The Lord is come…Let every heart prepare Him room.”
Draw nigh to God…
Draw nigh in repentance, for the forgiveness of sins
…in silent adoration
Draw near in unrestrained awe and praise
Draw close to the Lord…
…to that Intimate Friend
Draw close to the Beloved of your soul
…kneeling as a petitioner
Draw alongside as a listener, in deepest affection
Draw closer still to the Babe in the manger…
…listen to the sweet sounds of the Newborn, as a foreshadowing of grievous sobs for a world of sinners
…smell the scent of the timbered cradle, as a harbinger of the distinctive fragrance of a destined, wooden cross
…see the Babe’s tiny hands reaching out, as impending vessels for prophetic iron spikes
…hear the gentle beat of His humble heart, as the antithesis of the future, rhythmic clanking of a metal hammer
Draw near to receive…
…a salvation so freely offered
…the power and strength you are lacking
…the guidance necessary to proceed through life’s events
…the tender touches of love to ease your pain and suffering
…overflowing streams of peace into your tired and hurting soul
…words of comfort and encouragement to soothe your broken heart and wipe away your tears
…in moments of anger
…in moments of praise
…in moments of emergency
…in moments of stillness
…in moments of deep sorrow
…in moments of great joy
…in moments of despair
…in moments of thankfulness
“Something better has been brought to us. It is God’s promise. And by that promise we come near to God.” (Heb. 7:19b Worldwide English) Therefore, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Heb. 10:22 NKJV)
Draw near to the King of heaven and earth! Draw near to sing Happy Birthday!
*I dug into the back of the closet and dusted off this one from December, 2010. Hope you don’t mind a rerun.