Celebrate Christmas Celebrate New Life

Christmas is about everything new.


And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." (Luke 2:8-12)
Angles we have heard on High is a well know and favorite carol we hear each year at Christmas. It is a Tra­di­tion­al French car­ol  (Les Anges dans Nos Cam­pagnes). It was trans­lat­ed from French to Eng­lish by James Chad­wick and published in 1862 in the Crown of Je­sus.

We sing...
Come to Bethlehem and see 
Christ, whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee
Christ, the Lord, the new-born King.


Christmas is about everything new. New life, new beginnings, new order, new power, and a brand new and very unique Kingdom.

This new Kingdom would be just

Christmas [is] Changing the World


Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." (John 7:38)
Amazing things are already happening this year as we celebrate the birth of Jesus. In case you haven't seen it yet, we just got a breathtaking video from Peru about a community that was transformed through the work of Advent Conspiracy and the LWI-Peru team. Only days old, it's so fresh from the Amazon it still has mosquito bites on it! (email from LWI)
Witness the story of a community that received safe water--for the first time--just DAYS ago, on the Upper Amazon in northern Peru.

The story of this Candoshi village represents the stories of hundreds of thousands of people around the world who have received clean water in the name of Jesus through Advent Conspiracy and Living Water International.




Here is a link to excellent last minute Christmas gift ideas or stocking stuffers.

Merry Christmas!

Join a Christmas Conspiracy


There are many around the world during this month of December plotting a subversive underground conspiracy. A plot designed to overthrow one of the world's greatest traditions and entrenched practices. A conspiracy ingenuously engineered to challenge the

No Beginning and No End


Not too far back in history when one would stand looking out across the ocean they would easily conclude that it had no end. The sea just went on forever, water and sky, on and on, with no end. Land has bounds but the sea was limitless. We know today that it does have bounds. The ocean has a beginning and an end.

What Is Permanent, I Mean Really Permanent?

So what around us, in our lives, is permanent? What goes on forever? What has no end? With age and a little life experience and maybe a little science most of us come to the conclusion that nothing on this earth is permanent. At best there are things that appear permanent, but given enough time all things change, everything has limits, nothing is without an end.

The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek." (Psalm 110:4)
The Lord does not change his mind and the Messiah will be a priest forever. OK, but who is Melchizedek?

Who Is This Guy?

Melchizedek, the King of Salem, is briefly mentioned near the beginning of the Bible (Genesis 14), in the middle (Psalm 110), and in more detail towards the end (Hebrews 5, 6, & 7).

Abraham's encounter with Melchizedek as recorded in the first book of the Bible (Genesis 14:17-20) was brief, but as we begin to learn in Psalm 110 had tremendous significance in telling us more about the Messiah.

So what do we know from the Bible about Melchizedek?

038 | Kingdom Without Borders


The things Jesus taught brought very strong responses during his life on earth. His teaching still does. Jesus challenges people. He challenges me.


Check out this account of Jesus in his hometown teaching in the synagogue.
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor." (Luke 4:16-19)
The custom of the time was a teacher would stand to read Scripture and then sit to teach on what they read. Jesus sat down and said
"Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
The immediate response from the people.
All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.
I have been journaling through a book titled The Essential Jesus: 100 Readings Through the Bible's Greatest Story. In his reflection on the 38th passage outlined in this book the author Whitney T. Kuniholm writes "...as you'll see in the rest of our journey through the Bible, Jesus made many more jaw-dropping statements about what he came to do. A person who said what Jesus said and did what Jesus did demands a response."

Follow closely the response by the people to Jesus and his teachings in this passage.
He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. (Luke 4:15)

... All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. (Luke 4:22)

... All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way. (Luke 4:28-30)
The opinion of the people changed from praise to rejection. This change took place seemingly out of the blue. They drove him out of the city to the edge of a cliff. Their rejection was deep enough to

037 | Life is More than Flesh & Blood


"I've also seen the effect of the devil's work in the lives of broken and destroyed people, and as we see in Luke 4:1-13, the devil was attempting to destroy Jesus..." Whitney T. Kuniholm wrote this in his reflection titled "Deliver Us from Evil" in his book The Essential Jesus: 100 Readings Through the Bible's Greatest Story. As you may know I am blogging through this book. I am on passage reading number 37 of the 100 passages.


I want to focus on the first four verses of this passage.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread." Jesus answered, "It is written: 'People do not live on bread alone.' (Luke 4:1-4)
The question is did the devil know who Jesus was when he said "If you are the Son of God..."?

In Context of the Whole of Scripture

One thing that I have found to be very helpful when studying Scripture is to put the verse or passage that you are focusing on into the context of the whole of the Word of God. This is not easy and I often fail and this is one reason I find the need to continue to study the Bible. The ideal is to somehow keep all the knowledge you have learned from Scripture in your mind while you read each verse. I am not sure it is really even completely possible for any human, but there are those who do it very well. One can compensate some for an inability to do this with an in depth Bible study. Study a verse or passage for an extended period of time, referencing the rest of the Bible, and putting it into the context of the whole of Scripture. This approach is well worth the effort.

After some study I found some verses that show very precisely that evil spirits acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God (Mark3:11). In Mark Chapter 5 we read an account of Jesus restoring a demon-possessed man where the legion of demons cried out through this man "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?" (Mark 5:7) Evil spirits and demons are all under the command of the devil. If they knew who Jesus was the devil certainly knew. There are other clues in Scripture that would also prove that the devil knew that Jesus was the Son of God.

Sarcastic Taunt

For whatever reason, before this study, when I read what the devil said to Jesus here I read it as if the devil was honestly attempting to find out if Jesus was in fact the Son of God. Almost all Bible versions translate it this way "If you are the Son of God..." At first I read that as Satan not really knowing and wanting to find out. But after spending some time in thought and study of other passages in the Bible I now read this more as a sarcastic taunt. It seems pretty clear from a study of Scripture that Satan knows exactly who Jesus is.

Here is how David Guzik puts the devil's sarcastic taunt. "Since You're the Messiah, why are You so deprived? Do a little something for Yourself."

Derail & Distract

Satan had one goal, one focus: maintain the separation between humans and God. A separation Satan in the form of a serpent had instigated in the Garden of Eden. The evil one knew that the the work of Jesus had to be derailed. So here we are right out of the gate and Satan tries to distract Jesus. Tries to have Jesus take his focus of the will of his Father and his plans and focus on his own flesh.

Satan wanted Jesus to use his power as God to satisfy his own human hunger. Satan wanted Jesus to perform a miracle for the sole purpose of satisfying his hunger and proving his deity. From what I know of Scripture Jesus did not use his ultimate power as God to satisfy his earthly needs. He only performed miracles for the benefit of other people. Benefit in the sense of both a physical healing and giving a glimpse of who he was really. Miracles helped many "say wait a minute this is not a carpenter, this is not a teacher, this is the Messiah, this is the very Son of God."

Not Fully Human

I think Satan also wanted to get Jesus to use his power as God for his own benefit to be able to in a way show that Jesus was not like us. He had it easy, he has all the power to make his life comfortable, with no trouble, and without suffering. Perhaps Satan wanted to create a gap between him and us. In a twisted way I think Satan wanted to be able to announce that Jesus was not fully human that Jesus was not like us humans in every way except sin, he had power to make his life easy and he would use it.

Do a Little Something For Yourself

David Guzik goes on to point out that just as Jesus was tempted with a sarcastic taunt the devil comes to us saying "If you're a child of God, why are things so tough? Do a little something for yourself."

Let me tell you I have tried to "do a little something" for myself. I have spent way to much of my life doing a little something for myself. I have tried to use the power I have to make my life more comfortable. I have forced things just to get my way, just to make me happy and frankly looking back, it wasn't worth it. In fact I am embarrassed. I have been selfish and self-centered. I have spent way too much of my time focusing on my flesh. I know I am not alone in this.

Not Only About Our Flesh

I desire to have the focus Jesus did here. A focus on the will of his Father that is so strong, so complete, food is of little value to him as he confronts the devil, one on one. He resists the devil's sarcastic taunt with the simple truth that our lives are more than just about our flesh and being comfortable. Our lives are sustained by the very words of God, in fact, every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Jesus responds to Satan with Scripture. He quotes Scripture that I am sure the devil was familiar with in Deuteronomy.
He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that people do not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:3)


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Bible Devotions on Facebook

Get to Know God

God is so much larger than our human thoughts. Reading scripture expands our thoughts about God. Knowledge from the Bible pushes and pulls at who we understand God to be. Scripture explodes misconceptions and myths we have about our Creator. Get to know God by reading the Bible.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness... (2 Timothy 3:16)

Bible Devotional on Facebook

Do you use Facebook? Did you know you can find the Word of God on Facebook? Yes, get daily and weekly Bible devotions right on Facebook. You know that "Home" page that opens when you first login to Facebook, also known as the "News feed"? Yes right there in your news feed along with your friends status updates you will find a quick look at scripture or some faith encouraging words. Some very short, some more in depth. All designed to encourage, inspire, and challenge you while pointing to God. Sometimes it will be a link to a great blog post or a quote. Sometimes it will be a video, a worship song, or a great message. A Bible Devotional centered on Christ Jesus. Check it out. Become a Fan!

Bible Devotional on Facebook

This Facebook Devotional is designed to be a quick reminder at the beginning, end, or in the midst of your day of the Words God has given us in the Bible. Words that have the power to change your day, your life.

The devotions are designed to be responded to. You can write a quick comment like an Amen or simply click on "Like". Also please feel free to comment in more depth with a related Bible verse, a quote, or your own personal thoughts on the devotion.

Share with Friends on Facebook

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You can also very easily share this devotional with your other Facebook friends if desired by clicking on the "Suggest to Friends" link under the page profile image on the left.

If desired you can also very easily add a badge or button (like the one to the right) to your own Facebook profile sidebar by clicking on the "grab this" link under the badge image in the lower left hand sidebar on the sound of a soft breath Facebook page. If you write a blog and want to add this badge or button to your blog this can also easily be done by clicking the same link.

You probably have already noticed that I have included a glimpse of the most recent devotion at Facebook right on my blog. You can scroll down to check out some of the previous devotions. There is also a button to quickly become a fan.

Contributors

There are two of us who are currently contributing to "sound of a soft breath on Facebook":  myself and Claire @ "One Passion One Devotion." Claire has a wonderful blog. Here is how she describes her mission:
"My life mission is to Know God and make Him Known… and i believe my blog is an extension of my expression of that…" (more)
Claire lives in New Zealand and has a beautiful passion and energy for the Lord that flows right through her writing. She has added a spunk and richness to the Bible devotions on Facebook. I continue to be blessed by her witting and I encourage you to check out her blog and learn more about her.

Come Check it out on Facebook

Come check it out at http://www.facebook.com/bible.devotions. Consider becoming a Fan and spreading the word.

Thank you,

God Gave us Holes

Limited View
Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity. (Psalm 93:2 | Psalm 92)
As humans we are limited by the world we live in. We are limited by time and space. We are limited by our own failings. We are limited by the blindfold of sin. As a result we often put our own human limitations on God. Perhaps not deliberately or consciously, but because we live in a box with limited views, we tend to pull God down into that box and relate to him like he is trapped in our box. Yes we have a few holes here and there that we can look through to get glimpses of eternity, but God is not in our box. God is not confined by time and space and can see the past, present, and future all at once. God is not limited by this world.
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11 | context)
God has given us the ultimate view out of our box.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
Sin is a blindfold and only leads to death. Christ provides the ultimate glimpse into eternity, today. One day, through Christ, the holes will be gone, the box will be gone, and the view will be vast, endless, limitless.

More and more my prayer is that I will look through the lens of eternity as much as is possible from my box. God's eternity. The eternity he has spoken about in his words to me. The Word. God's eternity that is shown in Christ. Not my temporary little holes.



About the photo: credit The Photo in this post is taken at the Hole in the Rock at Papago Park in Tempe, AZ.

A Fence Around God

God had a high-powered electric fence built around him at Mount Sinai. Well, hard to tell if it really was a fence, it was not electric, but it was some kind of boundary that if you crossed it or even touched it YOU WOULD DIE. We read about this in the Old Testament. Three months after leading the Israelites out of Egypt Moses is told, by the Lord, to prepare for his arrival at Mount Sinai.
Then the Lord told Moses, “Go down and prepare the people for my arrival. Consecrate them today and tomorrow, and have them wash their clothing. Be sure they are ready on the third day, for on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai as all the people watch. Mark off a boundary all around the mountain. Warn the people, ‘Be careful! Do not go up on the mountain or even touch its boundaries. Anyone who touches the mountain will certainly be put to death. (Exodus 19:10-12, NLT | read the context)
This seems strangely extreme to me from strictly a human perspective. To put this in proper perspective and context one must acknowledge that God is holy. Easy said, but dwell on that a bit.

GOD IS HOLY.

Mike Taylor writes "What does that mean? It's hard for us to express because it's so alien to us. Holiness is the opposite of sin. It's not merely the absence of sin, or even the hatred of sin, but a total otherness from sin. It's an uncompromising purity, a terrifying dedication to what is good and right."

A. W. Tozer puts it this way "God’s holiness is not simply the best we know infinitely bettered. We know nothing like the divine holiness. It stands apart, unique, unapproachable, incomprehensible and unattainable. The natural man is blind to it. He may fear God’s power and admire His wisdom, but His holiness he cannot even imagine."

John Piper says God "has an infinite love for what is infinitely valuable and an infinite hate for what opposes the infinitely valuable. His delight in praiseworthy things is unbounded, and his abhorrence of what is blameworthy is perfect."

Perhaps the more we try to comprehend the holiness of God the better we can understand the nature of the interaction between God and humans. Why does God act as he does with his people? Why the boundary? Why the separation?

As recorded in the bible the prophet Habakkuk acknowledges in speaking to the Lord,
"Your eyes are too pure to look on evil, and you cannot tolerate wrong." (Habakkuk 1:13)
I suppose to put things in very simple terms, God is pure and people are impure. The pure and impure cannot come together without something explosive happening like immediate judgment and destruction of the impure. At the core of this is the purest form of justice.

I don't feel like I am really able to even express my thoughts adequately here. It is difficult to put into words concisely but, God's holiness required human boundaries. God in a very clear way set these limits to protect his people. Clear warnings are given. It is important to stress that if God's plan ended here, if this was the end the Bible, we would all probably be dead or at best running madly away from God. Certainly not seeking his presence. The good news is God found a way to compensate for our impurity. A way through the fence without immediate death, through the boundary to God. Yes even a way to change us from impure to pure. There is One Gate, one way. (John 10:7-9)!



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036 | Jesus Identified with Us



Humans tend to identify themselves with others. People have a need to say I am with her, or I am with him. I agree with that person. I belong to this group or that group. Yes, there are those who say "I am my own man" or "I don't follow anyone," but I think this is usually not very accurate and only a facade. People need to identify with others and have others identify with themselves, whether they admit it or not.

Christianity is all about identification. Calling oneself a Christian is saying to all that you have identified yourself with Christ Jesus, the very Son of God. I follow Christ. I worship Christ.

Baptism is as an outward sign to our friends, our family, the world, that we believe Jesus is the Son of the living God, the Messiah, and we desire to identify ourselves as a follower of Jesus. I have associated, affiliated, identified my life, my will, my thoughts, and my actions with Jesus.

Before we are baptized, before we publicly identify ourselves with Jesus a rethinking has taken place in our life. A change in how we view God, ourselves, and others. A change that causes us to turn from our sin and towards God. A turn that confesses the truth of our failures, our rebellion before God the Creator. A turn that acknowledges God's loving plan to restore our relationship with him through his son Jesus.

Many of you know that I am currently blogging through a book titled The Essential Jesus: 100 Readings Through the Bible's Greatest Story written by Whitney T. Kuniholm. I am on passage reading number 36 of the 100 passages.


Hear are some highlights from this passage:
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." (Matthew 3:1)

Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. (v. 6)

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"

Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented.

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:13-17)
In this account written by Matthew we see many responding to a message of repentance by coming down to the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist. They come, confess their sins, and then are baptized in the river.

Now we know from scripture that Jesus was without sin. (1 Peter 2:22, 1 John 3:5, John 8:46) So why did Jesus insist he must be baptized by John? We even see John resist Jesus' request at first.

Since Jesus was without sin there was absolutely no reason Jesus needed to rethink anything about his life, Jesus did not need to repent. He did not need to change or turn away from anything in his life. There was no rebellion in the heart of Jesus. Jesus was one with God the Father on everything.

So why was Jesus baptized?

I think there are several reasons why, but today I would like to focus on just one:  Identification. Jesus came to earth, in part, to identify with us humans. He came down from heaven to walk on this earth in a body like ours. God came down to earth to live like us and with us. (John 1:14) Jesus willing submitted himself to a ceremony that was designed to signify a change in one's life a change he did not need but one that is critical for us.

In baptism Jesus identified with us. At the cross Jesus also identified with us. Accepting a penalty or a punishment for another person is the ultimate form of identification. Substitution takes identification to the highest level. Most of us only desire to identify ourselves with people for good and positive things. But at the cross Jesus identified himself with our failure.
...he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:12)
Jesus was "numbered" with us. Jesus bore our sin. He took the weight of our failure and rebellion on himself. He identified our sin with himself. He took our punishment.

Because Jesus identified himself with me and my failures. Because he paid the price for my wrongs I can be called a co-heir, a heir, a child, a son of God. God identifies with me.
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:14-17)
I am a Christian. Christ identified his life with mine. I have identify my life with Christ and God calls me his child. Incredible!



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I Believe Help Me Jesus with My Unbelief

Sometimes you hear something that just clicks. Something that is exactly how you feel. This happened to me on Sunday during the message given at Valley View Community Church. Bruce Carter has been leading us over the past 5 months through a series titled "The Good News of Jesus: As Told By Mark." We are in Chapter 9 just after the Transfiguration. Jesus along with the disciples Peter, James, & John have just hiked down off the mountain after an incredible experience and walk into the middle of an argument. Apparently some of the disciples had tried to drive an evil spirit out of a boy, but failed. Now the disciples and some teachers of the law were arguing. The father of the boy was desperate and now very discouraged.

Check out the account as recorded by Mark. Read Mark 9:14-29. You can also find this account in Matthew 17:14-18 and Luke 9:38-43.

I find the interaction between Jesus and the father fascinating.

Jesus:
"How long has he been like this?"
Boy's father:
"From childhood. It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."
Jesus:
"If you can? Everything is possible for one who believes."
Boy's father:
"I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"

The following is what Bruce Carter said about this encounter in his message on Sunday.

I love this man's response. It's so sincere. It's so honest. It's so real. And I can relate to it. That's how I so often feel about my faith. I believe, Jesus, help me overcome my unbelief.

I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. I believe that Jesus died on the cross and rose again from the dead. I believe that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God and one day is coming back to set up his kingdom on this earth. I believe that Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords and that one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. I believe that Jesus has forgiven my sin and given me eternal life and brought me into his kingdom. I believe all that.

But can I trust Jesus to guide my life? Can I trust Jesus to take care of my kids? Can I trust Jesus to pay the bills? Can I trust Jesus will not give me any more than I can bear? Can I trust Jesus to steer the bike we talked about a few weeks ago? Can I trust Jesus with my unanswered questions and the things I don't understand? Can I trust Jesus that it's worth denying myself, taking up my cross, and following him? Can I trust Jesus for those things? Lord I believe, help me overcome my unbelief."


Then after this father's response Jesus drives the evil spirit out of his boy.
When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. "You deaf and mute spirit," he said, "I command you, come out of him and never enter him again." The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, "He's dead." But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. (Mark 9:25-27)

Bruce Carter went on to say ...
Jesus took the man's faith as weak as it was and he worked with it. And he'll do the same with us. He'll take our weak and imperfect faith and he'll work with us too. And thank God he does."

This father's faith was strong enough to bring him to Jesus. He believed that Jesus could help his son.

This father's response to Jesus really connected with me. He has given words to how I feel right now. This is where I am at today. "I believe, help me Jesus with my unbelief." Help me to trust your will, your provision, your care. Today.



While men have no faith, they are unconscious of their unbelief; but, as soon as they get a little faith, then they begin to be conscious of the greatness of their unbelief." (Charles Spurgeon)

035 | Intersection of Belief & Life

His parents found him after searching three days. Jesus was 12 years old.
"Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?"

But they did not understand what he was saying to them. (Luke 2:49-50)
Why didn't Jesus' parents understand? Of all those who knew Jesus they should have seen it pretty clearly. How could they not understand that he was the son of God and when he was speaking of the Father he was speaking of his father - God Almighty.

Not only had Joseph and Mary, at this point, spent 12 years raising Jesus as their son, but they were visited by angels before his birth informing them of the greatest news ever given: the Son of God was coming to earth to save his people. Their son would be the promised Messiah, the Savior of the World.

Read or listen to the entire account by Luke of Jesus at the age of 12 hanging out with some Jewish teachers in the temple courts.

Mary

But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."

"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:30-35)

Joseph

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:20-21)
It is so easy to say they should have understood what Jesus was saying here, but we have been blessed with hindsight. We have the written word of God spelled out for us in black and white. We have the words of Jesus and the events that surrounded him laid out before us through the eyes of 4 different people. We have God's plan for humankind laid out before us in letters written by some of his followers. All written down under the guidance of God the Holy Spirit.

As I think about what they did know I can better appreciate why they may have not immediately understood. Yes they had been told through angles who Jesus was and why he came. They had been told essentially the big picture, but Jesus had not yet started explaining his mission to everyone and he wouldn't for another 17 years. Not to mention there was no cross, death, or resurrection to put it all into perspective.

When I look at what I understand about God and his son Jesus I know I am missing much even under the light of the whole of scripture. I can read parts of scripture over and over again and not really understand. Light bulbs do go on here and there and my understanding grows as I study, pray, and apply what I read in the Word to my life. Seeing the lack of understanding by Joseph and Mary in this account helps me to realize that complete understanding does not come all at once, if ever really in this life.

Really Random I think we have a tendency to look at faith like an academic exercise where we sit down and study the Bible during a certain period of time and then take a test, earn some kind of religions certification, and then we are done. We are now faith literate and we can now apply it all. The more I read the Bible the less academic I find it and the more challenged I feel in my faith. The more I see a intangible interconnection between the words of God, a personal relationship, and life application. A connection between reading, believing, and living but not in a neat simple sequential fashion, but in a more seemingly random, back and forth, sometimes messy, sometimes surprising fashion.

My understanding of God's plan seems to become more clear at the intersection of belief and life. To put it another way for me clarity has somehow come through learning, believing, and living all at the same time. Learning what God has said through the words in the Bible, believing those words, and living out what I believe.



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Photo credits: The first image in this post is titled "Question Mark ?" and was uploaded to flickr.com on May 4, 2005 by Leo Reynolds. The second image in this post is titled "Really Random" and it was uploaded to flickr.com by Dan Morelle on Oct. 28, 2007, 2:13AM PDT.

034 | In Reverse It All Makes Sense


In Old Testament times before Jesus was born when someone heard a prophet speak or read from a scroll of scripture they may have found some of the information about the coming Messiah confusing. The small nuggets of information reveled about where the Messiah would come from and live probably seemed random and just a little conflicting. One prophet would say the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, then they would hear He would be a Nazarene, and then that He would come from Egypt.

As you may be aware I am journaling through the book titled The Essential Jesus: 100 Readings Through the Bible's Greatest Story written by Whitney T. Kuniholm. I am on number 34 of the 100 passages. In the last sentence of his reflection on this passage Kuniholm writes "God always knows what he is doing in our lives, even when his plan isn't so clear to us."

When he [King Herod] had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written..." (Matthew 2:4-5)
...an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son." (Matthew 2:13-15)
But when he [Joseph] heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: "He will be called a Nazarene." (Matthew 2:23-23)
Through the course of many many years God reveled specific facts through various prophets about the coming Messiah. A small piece of the puzzle here and one there, through this person, then through that person. Small seemingly random pieces of God's master rescue plan. Without all the pieces in place it may have seemed quite confusing, even conflicting.

One may come away wondering "would the Messiah be Nazarene or a resident of Bethlehem or was the coming Messiah going to be an Egyptian?"

I often see various things in my life that seem random, confusing, and even conflicting and wonder how does this all fit together. I examine situations in my life or those close to me and question why. Why Lord? it doesn't make sense. Why am I like this or that? Why did this happen, or that? Why am I not like this, or that? How do these things work together, fit together? What is God's plan for me, for my family? How does all this stuff, my personality traits, my interests, life situations, failures, successes, friends, and family fit together in my life? How is all this stuff going to come together to be God's will for me?

My need to have all of the pieces of my life together and worked out so I understand completely simply gets in the way of my faith in God. My need to know just how it all fits together distorts my faith somewhat.

I have seen glimpses of the puzzle. I have looked back at things that have happened and seen a few of the pieces fitted together. I have seen why this or that took place and why I am have a certain personality trait. In hindsight I have seen God use my fears, and misguided words and actions to arrive at His will for me at a certain point in time. These glimpses encourage me. They remind me that God is at work.

Philip Yancey has such a way with words. He writes in his book "Disappointment with God" that "Faith means trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse."

God is at work and instead of needing to know all the details of the plan, the pieces of the puzzle, I just need to trust Him today. Grab hold of what I know today, follow Christ, and trust God as he puts all the pieces together.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 ESV)


| More on the Essential Jesus journey. |

photo credits: The top photo in this article is titled "looking back" and was uploaded to Flickr.com by motone on January 14, 2009. The next photo in this article is titled "rompecabezas" and was uploaded to Flickr.com by condormx on May 15, 2007.

033 | Unremarkable & Authentic Growth

Real authentic growth in the Kingdom of God is mostly the result of small unremarkable everyday words and actions coming out of our response to Jesus.
In the previous Essential Jesus passage number 32 I wrote a post titled Seemingly Unremarkable Kingdom which was about just how low key the event was that brought God down from Heaven. A truly historic event that to me would call for an earth shattering mind blowing experience. But that was not how it happened. A defenseless baby born to a seemingly unimportant poor Jewish father and mother living in a small town of little apparent importance. It was a seemingly unremarkable event for most of the people living in the world at the time, even for many in the same town. In that article I pointed out a few other occasions recorded in the Bible where God also worked in seemingly unremarkable ways.

God often works in seemingly unremarkable ways with seemingly unremarkable people all to build a seemingly unremarkable Kingdom - God's Kingdom.


We read about many seemingly unremarkable people in the Bible and their response to seeing Jesus. Here in Luke's account we read about a few unnamed shepherds, a man named Simeon, and a women named Anna. What were their responses?

Shepherds near Bethlehem
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. (Luke 2:16-18)

Simeon in a Public Gathering Place
Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

"Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel." (Luke 2:27-32)

Anna in the Temple Courts
Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:38)
Tell others... When people saw Jesus their response was to tell others.

It is amazing to me that not only does God desire to come to earth in such a seemingly unremarkable way he desires to use unremarkable people to spread his vital and life changing message to every person of every time. In a world and time where we have such remarkable and very high tech methods to communicate with other people the primary method God desires to use is our seemingly unremarkable words and actions, our personal response to His Son Jesus. When we look at Jesus, learn about his life, study the words he spoke, we will have a response. The response can't help but come directly from our soul. We need to share that response with others. Not in a necessarily big, fancy, media savvy way, but in a stripped down and honest way. This sharing will probably be some of the smallest things said and done in our everyday lives, but have very large and momentous impacts on people and their lives. Also we probably will not really see the impact of our unremarkable words and actions directly. Real authentic growth in the Kingdom of God is mostly the result of small unremarkable everyday words and actions coming out of our response to Jesus.



| More on the Essential Jesus journey. |

photo credit: Photo in this post is titled Another Time and was wploaded to flickr.com on December 23, 2007 by _marmota

Why do I Freak Out?

SpringThe lyrics to a Jon Foreman song written with Matthew Chapter 6 in mind have really struck a cord with me lately. I am not a person who freaks out much. At least on the outside. But lately, given the lack of financial security in my life right now, I have been freaking out on the inside. Perhaps more than I have been letting on, I don't know. It comes in waves, sometimes I am at peace with the insecurity, but other times it just seems scary when I look into the near future.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? (Matthew 6:25-27)
Give us today our daily bread. (Matthew 6:11)
I simply need to stop worrying and live one day at a time. God provides daily and I know I just need to narrow my focus down to one day, thank God for what he has blessed us with that day, and then wake up and do it all over. Day by Day.

These lyrics are my prayer...

Heavenly Father
You always amaze me
Let your kingdom come
In my world and in my life
You give me the food I need
To live through the day
And forgive me as I forgive
The people that wronged me
Lead me far from temptation
Deliver me from the evil one

I look out the window
The birds are composing
Not a note is out of tune
Or out of place
I look at the meadow
And stare at the flowers
Better dressed than any girl
On her wedding day

So why do I worry?
Why do I freak out?
God knows what I need
You know what I need


Your love is
Your love is
Your love is strong

The kingdom of the heavens
Is now advancing
Invade my heart
Invade this broken town
The kingdom of the heavens
Is buried treasure
Will you sell yourself
To buy the one you've found?

Two things you told me
That you are strong
And you love me
Yes, you love me

Your love is
Your love is
Your love is strong

Our God in heaven
Hallowed be
Thy name above all names
Your kingdom come
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven
Give us today our daily bread
Forgive us wicked sinners
Lead us far away from our vices
And deliver us from these prisons

These are the lyrics from Jon Foreman's song "Your Love is Strong" which is on his album titled "Spring". Jon is the lead singer and song writer for the group Switchfoot. Last year he released 4 albums on his own titled after the four seasons. He has quickly become one of my all time favorite artist. He has a gift of stripping down his songs to very honest expressions of his life and faith in God. Here is what the song sounds like.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:34)
Lord help me to focus on today, to see your blessings TODAY and let tomorrow be for tomorrow.

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