Monthly Archives: December 2020

He Came for All People

“Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all people.” (Luke 2:10)

These are the words of the angel who appeared to shepherds in the region where Mary gave birth to Jesus.  The angel told the shepherds that Jesus had come for all people.

The “good news” was not just for the shepherds or the Jewish people, but for all people.  All people included the unbelieving and pagan world of the Roman and Greek cultures at the time.  It included the Magi, educated and wealthy, and believed to have come from Persia.

Jesus is everyone’s savior. 

The prophet Isaiah says that Jesus came for the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, those who mourn and grieve, and those who are in despair and darkness.  He says that Jesus wants to give them a crown of beauty and a garment of praise so that they may become oaks of righteousness. (Is. 61:1-3)

While Jesus walked this earth he did exactly what Isaiah said.  Today, he expects to continue to do this, but through us by the power of his Holy Spirit.

For us, “everyone” includes the check-out clerk in the grocery store, the telephone solicitor who we hang up on, the person at work who is difficult to get along with, the person asking for money outside the metro station, the person who talks during church services or the children who can’t sit still.  “Everyone” includes those who think different politically than we do and even the terrorists who wish to do us harm.

Lord, when I see the people you put in my life, let me look upon them with the understanding that you came for them just as you came for me.  It doesn’t matter who they are, what their religion, race, position or financial status is.  Your offer of salvation and new life is available to them.  Let me use the occasion to introduce them to you through my conduct and words as you give me the opportunity. 

John’s Gospel tells us that all who accept the Lord Jesus, and believe on his name will become sons of God. (John 1:12)

Do you look on the people you encounter in your life as people Jesus came for?

Why We Celebrate Christmas

After hearing the Christmas story over and over, year after year, its true meaning and impact may fade against the backdrop of today’s culture.  Yet, if we think about it, God’s willingness to become one of us is the greatest act of humility and love in all of history.  In John’s Gospel we read, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

Here we have God the Father, creator of all that exists, creator of the millions of galaxies and the billions of stars whose distance is measured in light years. Here we have God who created the atom and the molecule whose size is measured in nanometers – that’s one billionth of a meter.  This God, who created the human person with a body, soul, and mind, different from all other creatures, became one of his created in order to free each of us from our sins and the world from its bondage to sin – to reconcile us to him and one another.   

Father William Barry, in his book, A Friendship Like No Other, says, “God took humanity seriously enough to become one of us, and we do God no service if we downplay what God has done in becoming human.” 

It seems like it is easier for us to view Jesus in his divinity than it is for us to accept fully his humanity.  But God in Jesus was a real human person, born of Mary in the humblest of circumstances.  He had to be toilet trained, learn a language and be raised from childhood to an adult just as we all have been.  He evidently followed his earthly father, Joseph, in the trade of being a carpenter, for the people of Nazareth were later to ask, “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?” (Mark 6:3)

After assuming his public ministry, the leaders of his own religion rejected him and handed him over to the Romans to die a horrible human death.  We can be sure that Jesus’ humanity felt the sting of the whip and the piercing pain of the nails.  God is no stranger to suffering.  God in Jesus knows what human life is like from the inside.  His desire for friendship, to dwell with us and in us knows no bounds.

Genesis tells us we were created in the image of God, but from the very beginning, we have failed to live up to that expectation.  God had to show us how to be his image by becoming one of us. After showing us by his example, he then sent us the Holy Spirit to live in us and enable us to imitate his image – to be his presence and bring his presence to the people and circumstances of our lives.

A cobbler does not become a shoe, a cabinet maker does not become a cabinet, but God the Father and creator of all that exists became one of us.  Little wonder that history’s calendar is measured in terms of before and after this event.

Let us celebrate the birth of Jesus for what it is – the greatest act of humility and love in all of history.

Birth by the Holy Spirit

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  Therefore, the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”  (Luke 1:35)

The birth of the baby Jesus and our spiritual birth have a common element.  The source of both is the Holy Spirit.

The conception of Jesus in Mary was brought about by the Holy Spirit.  The same Holy Spirit is the source of our spiritual birth.  Jesus said to Nicodemus, “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.  No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.” (John 3:3, 5)

Both Mary and Nicodemus asked the same question, “How can this be?”  Both Gabriel and Jesus gave the same answer.  It is by the Holy Spirit that these things happen.  As Jesus was born through the power of the Holy Spirit, so too was the Church, and so too, are we.

Ever since I was a young boy growing up in a small town in Iowa, I have experienced a special feeling of God’s presence on Christmas Eve.  It is a feeling of peace and love.  A calm descends; the earth is quiet from all the hurrying and scurrying of Christmas preparations.  It is the Holy Spirit.

When I was old enough to drive, I would often leave the house after our Christmas Eve traditions with family, and drive through the neighborhood of my former paper route.  I knew every family on that route, more than a hundred.  Some houses would be dark.  Others would be full of lights with people inside celebrating the coming of the baby Jesus.

The words of the song Silent Night gently echoed: “Silent night, Holy night. All is calm, All is bright.” 

As we move closer to the celebration of Christmas this year, let us remember the role of the Holy Spirit – the means by which the creator of all that exists became one of us through the Virgin Mary, and the means by which we can experience God’s presence and saving grace at this very moment.

Do you experience God’s presence through the Holy Spirit?  If not, find a quiet place and invite him in?

God’s Power Announcer

“People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.”  (Mark 1:5) 

How do we measure the power of a message? 

Given the overwhelming response John the Baptist received, his efforts in announcing the advent of Jesus’ public ministry must have indeed been powerful.  Since transportation in those days was accomplished primarily by walking, it is remarkable that John was receiving people from all over Judea.  Jerusalem would have been more than 35 miles from where John was baptizing, which is more than a day’s walk. The more remote areas of Judea would have taken even longer. 

What made this even more extraordinary was that John’s message was a tough message, calling people to change their ways and repent of their sins.  Even tax collectors and soldiers were going to John, to listen to him and confess their sins. 

Only by the power of the Holy Spirit, would John have been able to attract so many people from such distant areas, with such a challenging message.  We may recall the words of the angel Gabriel to John’s father, Zechariah, “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb.”  (Luke 1:15) 

In fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy, John was preparing the people of Judea to receive the coming of Jesus, the Messiah.  “A voice of one calling in the desert; prepare the way of the Lord.” (Isaiah 40:3) He was preparing them through the confession and cleansing of their sins in the waters of baptism.

Like John, we too, are called to lead family, friends, colleagues and even strangers to open the door of their hearts to Jesus. It starts with how we live our lives.  Righteous conduct gives credibility to our words.  Sometimes, our role is just to plant seeds for God’s future cultivation.  Sometimes we have a more direct role such as with our families (spouse and children) for whom God gives us a direct responsibility.   Sometimes God places people in our lives for the purpose of introducing them to him. 

Like John, we too, have the power of the Holy Spirit who gives us the wisdom, courage, and opportunity to speak and build relationships with others for the purpose of leading them to Jesus.

As we move into this season of celebrating the birth of Jesus, are we acting with the same passion as John the Baptist in pointing people toward Jesus?

“Your Prayer Has Been Heard”

“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John.”  (Luke 1:13)

Imagine praying for something for many years and then being visited by an angel telling you that God has heard your prayer! 

This is what happened to a Jewish priest by the name of Zechariah, as he went into the temple sanctuary to burn incense.  Why did God send an angel to tell Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, that they were going to have a son in their old age?  Why not just let events unfold?

Perhaps to prepare their hearts and minds for something extraordinary – that a woman, long past child bearing age would give birth to a son, and that this son would be John the Baptist, destined to prepare the way for the coming of God’s son on earth.

My wife and I have always related to this story in a small way ever since the birth of our son following an eleven year gap from the birth of three daughters earlier in our marriage.  It was by no means a miraculous birth, but we did get a sense that we should be open to having more children even though we had crossed the age 40 threshold.   

We took on Gabriel’s words to Zechariah as our own, “He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth.”  (Luke 1:14 NIV)  This was certainly true for our family and close friends.  We named our son Stephen after Stephen in Acts 7.  Our joy in his birth did not diminish our joy and love for our three daughters, but in fact enhanced our overall joy for our family as a whole and what God was doing in our lives – even adding a fourth daughter a couple of years later with special needs but lots of blessings.

For Zechariah and Elizabeth, God was indeed answering a long term prayer request for a son, but he was also accomplishing a purpose much larger than their initial request may have intended – the birth of John the Baptist, who would serve to proclaim the coming of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. 

Who can know the mind of God?  He often has a purpose in response to our prayers that reaches far beyond our intended request. Today, our first three daughters and son are all raising families of their own – bringing life to thirteen children who are being raised in Christian traditions and ways.  Who can imagine how God will use these parents and their children to further his will and purpose in the years to come? 

Oh, the wonder of falling into the will of the living God! 

Have you been waiting for God to answer a long held and faithful prayer like Zechariah and Elizabeth?