Friday, December 31, 2010

The Unopened Gift

Remember the last time you received a gift-wrapped package from someone? Picture the box, wrapped in iridescent white paper, and tied with a beautiful bow. When you were handed this gift, what did you do? Did you open it immediately, eager to see what was inside? Did you want to personally thank the one who gave you such a gift? I suspect that most would open the gift right away so the giver of the gift could see the pleasure on your face as you received this present. But did you ever take a beautifully gift-wrapped package, put it on a shelf or in the closet, and leave it there unopened? I can’t imagine doing such a thing, can you?
If you gave a gift to a loved one, would you be offended if that person never opened it? Would it bother you if you paid a good deal of money to purchase this gift, only to have it sit, unopened, on the shelf? Or what if you hand-made a gift, and spent countless hours laboring, in love, to create something special? Would you be upset if the recipient of this gift didn’t even open it?

The one who longs to give us good gifts is God, your heavenly father. We are quickly able to receive His gifts of love and peace. We may at times neglect to use these gifts, but we have opened them and have expressed our gratitude to God for His generosity.

There is one gift from God, however, that we often find difficult to open: the gift of forgiveness. Psalm 86:5 (NKJ) says, “For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You.” Unfortunately, many of us believe that our sins are just too terrible, so we cling to them. We know God forgives sins, but He surely won’t forgive this? We just can’t force ourselves to untie the bow and tear open the paper to receive the gift of forgiveness. Sometimes the problem is that we can’t forgive ourselves. “How could I have ever done that horrible thing?” we might wonder, and the beautifully wrapped package stays on the shelf, untouched.

God paid a great deal to give each of us this gift of forgiveness. He spent a great deal of time laboring on this gift as well, thirty-three years, as a matter of fact. For thirty-three years God’s son lived as a man on this earth, away from His home in heaven. That’s a long time to work on a gift of love. And He paid a high cost for this gift, too: He paid with His life. Don’t you think He would want us to open this gift?

Father God, forgive me Forgive my many sins, both those I have recently committed and those of long ago that I harbor in my heart. Help me accept Your gift, wrapped in love and the sacrifice of Your son. Help me take it off the shelf, unwrap it and accept the forgiveness inside.

I John 1: 8-9 “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas Gifts

Christmas is over. The presents have been opened and the wrapping paper thrown away. Already most of us have forgotten some of our gifts and who gave them. At our house the “biggest” gift was our new grandson, Simeon, who was then just six weeks old. Of course, everyone wanted to hold him, to touch his oh-so-soft skin. We all exclaimed over a smile, and the trusting eyes looking at everything, taking it all in. A new baby is indeed a precious gift, so beautiful, so tiny, and so totally helpless and dependant on us for everything.

Don’t we all receive the gift of the newborn at Christmas, the gift of the Christ child? He must have been just as precious, just as beautiful, just as tiny, just as helpless. But this baby is the one of whom John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:1-3 NKJ). Our God, who made the moon and the stars, who made the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, all the animals on the earth, and yes, who made us, willingly left his throne of glory to come to earth as a tiny, helpless baby. Let us not forget this most precious Christmas gift.

Lord Jesus, as we contemplate this gift, we humbly honor and praise you. What a dramatic transformation: from omnipotent being, reigning in heaven, to a helpless babe, lying in a manger. May the memory of this sacrifice, this precious gift, remain with us and inspire us to more diligently seek Your face.

Hebrews 1:10 “In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.”

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hear the Crying

Imagine if you will, Christmas day in history, more than 2000 years ago in the small town of Bethlehem. Jesus is born. Do you feel the crisp early morning air? Do you smell the animals and the hay? Listen. Do you hear the newborn crying? Can you see Mary, seated on the floor of the stable, holding her tiny son? Can you see her rock back and forth, back and forth to comfort and quiet this tiny babe?

Thirty years later, behold a dry and barren land. The voice of John the Baptist cries out

in the wilderness. “Make straight the way for the Lord,” he calls to any who will listen. Now that the crying baby is grown, his cousin John cries for the repentance of his people.
Three years later it is the mother of Jesus who cries. She kneels and weeps at the foot of a rugged Roman cross. High above her head is the broken body of her baby boy. The once tiny babe is grown and men have nailed him on this cross. She cries for her son who is suffering, who is dying.

In just a few days, everything changes. Now those bitter tears, those agonizing cries have turned to miraculous cries of joy. The son who was crucified on a cross is no longer in the tomb. He is alive!

As you contemplate these cries, think about your own preparations for Christmas. Did you spend many exhausting hours shopping, wrapping, cooking, cleaning, and baking, to prepare for Christmas? Did you cry in anger, frustration, or fatigue?

Through your tears, remember, the babe who cried in the manger is the Lord who died on the cross. He is the same Lord who was resurrected and is alive. He is the same Lord who takes away our sins so that we, too, may be blameless and live forever in heaven.
Once again, we hear crying, the crying of our hearts. We cry, needing comfort, remembering our sins. We cry in repentance, preparing our hearts for His coming and living in our lives. We cry in grief, remembering His sacrifice for us. We cry in joy, recognizing His resurrected life in us and anticipating eternity with Him in heaven. We cry tears of delight, for we realize that even though all the shopping and wrapping are not yet finished, we are, finally, truly ready for Christmas.

Psalm 34:15 “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry.”

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Ubiquitous. I like that word. You-bik-we-tus. Strange word. It means “something that is present or seems to be present everywhere at the same time.” Once I first heard the word I noticed it more and more often. Listen and you will hear it too, “ubiquitous.” The word itself has almost become ubiquitous.

What has truly become ubiquitous in our society is the cell phone. Everywhere, it seems, there are cell phones. Their ringing interrupts meetings, movies, and plays. Rings tones sing out everywhere. In the middle of a quiet dinner, the person nearby is loudly talking to a friend, telling details of her life I don’t want to hear. Everyone knows how ubiquitous, ever present, and annoying the cell phone can be.

I have decided not to let the sounds of all these cell phones and cell phone users annoy me. Sound like an impossible task? In order not to be annoyed, I let the cell phone serve as a reminder. Whenever I hear or see the phone, I remember that God is ubiquitous, present everywhere at the same time, omnipresent. No matter how often I hear a cell phone or see or hear someone talking on the phone, I know God is more ubiquitous than the phone. Every second of every day, He is here beside me. When I am in the grocery store, driving in my car, attending a play, or hard at work, He is beside me, loving me, seeking me, wanting me to seek Him. I can talk with God more easily and more often than anyone can talk on a cell phone and it doesn’t cost a cent! He is ubiquitous. So when the phone rings? Annoyance is replaced by the confident assurance that God is with me and, instead of irritation about the phone, I express a prayer of thanksgiving to my all-powerful, all wise, all loving, ever present, ubiquitous God.
Omnipotent, ubiquitous God, whenever the phone rings, let that remind me of Your holy presence.

Psalm 139:7-9 “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Rock

I took advantage of the late December 60 degree afternoon by walking along the nature trails in Pawnee Prairie Park. The ground is soft beneath my feet, and the view is fantastic. The various paths meander through scenic routes. One can walk through short grass, cedar forests, deciduous trees, or beside the curving Cowskin Creek. Here the air is fresh and crisp, and I step out briskly, working off my December overindulgences. Quickly I begin sweating lightly, and push up the sleeves of my sweat suit. After half an hour, I stop to rest beside the creek. Here a large tree trunk curves over the water’s edge: a perfect place to sit and listen to the rushing water. Large chunks of cement have been dumped into the creek here at its bend, and I sit and listen to the water gurgle over and around them. I wonder if I could hopscotch across the stream on these rocks; it is only ten feet wide. I stand up on the rock nearest to the bank. It is solid and easily supports my weight. Leaning over slightly, I put my foot on the next rock, which is also solid, but slippery. I hesitate, and then lose my nerve. I can’t risk fallingoff these rocks into the cold water when I am two miles from home and warmth. It would be exhilarating to cross the stream, but my fear keeps me from attempting it.

In Psalm 18:2, David speaks of God as his rock: “the LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.” Isaiah also speaks of God as his rock: “Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD is the Rock eternal” (26:4). If God is our rock and our fortress, do we put our trust in Him, knowing that His firmness will hold us up? Instead of placing our weight on him, how many times do we lose our nerve, just as I did by not trusting the rock to help me cross the stream? When we fail to trust our eternal Rock we never experience the blessings He has reserved for us.

Help me, Father, to rely on Your strength and to trust Your support. Give me the courage to step out in faith, knowing Your strength is sufficient for my needs.

Deuteronomy 32:4a “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just.”

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The King of the World

When I opened the back door, I heard a small voice yell, “I’m king of the world.” In a yard nearby a small boy perched about eight feet high on top of his backyard playground equipment. With tousled hair, smudged cheeks, and torn jeans, he was quite an unlikely looking king of the world.

Jesus, too, came as an unlikely king. In His day, He was expected to be a great and powerful king who would be victorious in vanquishing the Roman conquerors. As a king He would be expected to have certain qualities: wealth, power, authority, and the ability to conquer with force. On the surface, it didn’t appear that Jesus had any of these powers. As a carpenter and son of a carpenter, he certainly was not wealthy. As an Israelite living in a conquered country, he had no political power, nor did he have an army of men providing military might. His authority appeared limited—He used none over Caiaphas, the high priest, or over the Pharisees or the Roman rulers who put Him to death.

But looking below the surface, one can see Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was, and is, King of the world. Those who know Him realize that He has wealth far greater than we can imagine—even His streets are paved with gold. He is far greater than any king or army that ever existed or ever will exist, for His might created all the heavens and the earth, every animal and plant imaginable, the highest mountains and the deepest oceans. He is commander-in-chief of a host of heavenly angels who would have rescued Him from crucifixion if He had commanded it. His power is far beyond our ability to comprehend, and His authority is endless. Even while He was on earth as a man, He had the authority to calm the waves of the sea. Think what authority He commands now, reigning at God’s right hand! Yes, He was an unlikely king of the world, but He is our King of kings and Lord of lords. He has wealth, power, and authority, but he chooses to conquer with humility, sacrifice, and love.

Almighty Father, King of creation and King of my life, even though you have all power and authority in heaven and earth, you do not abuse your authority or force your subjects into submission. Thank you for giving each of us the choice to yield to your authority. Give us the wisdom to choose wisely.

Matthew 26:52-54 (NIV) “’Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him, ‘for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?’”

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Swinging the Sword

The story is familiar. We have known it since childhood. On the night Judas betrayed Jesus, an armed crowd came at night to arrest him. To protect his master, Peter “reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear” (Matthew 26: 26:51). The loyal disciple attempted to save Jesus with violence. Today’s Christians are familiar with Jesus’ out-of-the-ordinary response to Peter’s sword swinging: “’Put your sword back in its place…for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?’” (Matthew26:52-53).

I don’t have a sword, but if I did, I could neither swing it in a controlled manner, nor use it effectively to defend someone. Still, there is a message for me in these verses. How often do I take up the sword of independence, swinging away, trying to solve all my dilemmas? “I can do it. I can save you. I can handle this situation.” Acting on my own, I hack and hew with my sword, wearing myself out, and worsening the situation.

Did Jesus, creator of heaven and earth, need followers to protect Him? No, for He could call on God’s army of angels to obey His every command. Why do I not understand His willingness to protect me? Peter didn’t understand either. I have scriptures and the Holy Spirit to help me and still do not understand; there is no need to swing my sword. Almighty God, commander-in-chief of all the angels, is in control. I must rest behind His shield of power and love.

Oh God, help me lay down my sword and yield my “strength. “ Only then can I win my spiritual war.

Isaiah 58:11a “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.”

Sunday, December 5, 2010

I Wonder

I wonder what she thought. Mary. I wonder what she thought when she felt baby Jesus moving and kicking inside her womb. Yes, the angel had told her this child would be “called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35b), but she still must have wondered the very things all expectant parents wonder: What will he look like? Will he have my eyes? My smile? What will he do when he grows up? Will he be kind? Will he be happy?
Surely God kept the truth of Jesus’ death from this young, expectant mother. Knowing about his crucifixion ahead of time would be far too painful to bear. But His father, God, knew what this baby would grow up to be. His father knew he would be executed on a cross while still a young man. He knew about the crucifixion long before Jesus was born, and he still allowed it to happen; in fact, he planned this baby boy’s death long before Mary carried the son of God in her womb.

Why would a loving father plan the execution of his son? Of course, you know the answer. The human birth of the son of God, his life, death, and resurrection are all part of the plan to cleanse us from our sins and enable us to become adopted sons and daughters of God. His pain while on earth allows us to live abundantly and to spend eternity with God in heaven.

As we celebrate the season of our savior’s birth, remember that Christ was with God from the beginning, assisting in all of creation. Think of the sacrifice he made by living on earth, and allowing men to crucify him. What a wondrous Christmas gift!

Father, as we celebrate the birth of Mary’s baby, let us not forget this infant is the child of God whose sacrifice saves us from our sins.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Searching for Undersea Treasures

Some people contentedly swim along the surface of the water or wade in the shallows, hoping to stumble upon shells or other treasures. But they are unwilling to dedicate hard work to find treasures. Others who seek treasure are more realistic; they invest in proper diving equipment and explore the depths of the ocean. They may not find what they sought: gold or sunken ships on the ocean floor. But the sea is filled with other kinds of treasures--the wonders of all the life that teem in the ocean: fish of all kinds, lobsters, clams, sharks, whales, jellyfish, and octopus. Under the sea hide coral caves, mountains and volcanoes. Those who are persistent find many treasures.

So it is with our spiritual lives. Too often we are content to skim the spiritual surface. We hope that our brief foray into spiritual matters will result in that lucky find: blessings overflowing from a loving God. He is, of course, a loving God, but He desires that we diligently seek Him. Just as the serious treasure hunter invests much time and effort into seeking his undersea treasure, so we learn to invest time and energy seeking God’s treasures. Treasure hunters rarely work alone; together they are safer and more likely to find treasure. We too are more successful working together to seek our treasure. If we diligently seek God’s spiritual treasures, we will find them. We may frequently be surprised at what God reveals to us, but we will never be disappointed.

Oh God, you promise to reveal yourself to those who diligently seek you. Make me persistent in my searching. Show me how to search beyond the shallow waters to discover your spiritual treasure.

Deuteronomy 4:29 But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.