Monday, December 29, 2014

Get Your Hopes Up!


[Photo of a disgusted looking girl sitting at a table]

“So I say, ‘My splendor is gone and all that I had
hoped from the Lord’…The Lord is good to those whose
hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.”
—Lamentations 3: 18, 25 (emphasis added)

I must have been twelve or so—the age when most girls start to worry about their appearance and whether or not they will fit in with their friends. I had asked for a certain kind of sweater for Christmas and literally didn’t care about receiving anything much besides it.

Christmas Day came with the usual excitement and anticipation. Our family celebrated and gave gifts—and, after opening my gifts, I was shocked to realize that I had not receive the greatly desired sweater.

As a mopey teen, I clearly showed my disappointment. I even have a photograph to prove it! How could my parents have heard my distinct request and not fulfilled it?

Two days later, my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins got together for our annual extended family Christmas dinner and gift giving. Our large table was filled with all sorts of delightful dishes. We enjoyed lots of laughter and conversation. Once the dishes were done—it took so long in those days because we had no dish washer—we sat down to open presents.

Imagine my delight and surprise when the person who had drawn my name gave me the sweater. And not just the sweater, but the exact style, color, and size I had wanted! How foolish I felt for ruining my Christmas Day feeling sorry for myself and for doubting my parents’ careful love for me.

Many years later, I read the verses from Lamentations that I have quoted above. I realized then that God doesn’t want us to think of Him as an indulgent Santa Claus who promptly gives His children everything for which they hope. Instead, He wants us to place our hope in Him and leave the actual details of meeting our genuine needs to His great wisdom.

The Scriptures tell us in Romans 15:13 that God is a God of hope:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

This kind of hope is an amalgam of joy, peace, and trust in our God. This kind of hope produces in us a much deeper sense of belief than just a child-like expectancy that comes when a girl blows out all her birthday cake candles wishing for something very special.

During this Christmas season, and throughout the year ahead, whether you receive from God all you for which you hope or not, may you learn to hope in Him and be at peace with the decisions He makes in your behalf.



Monday, December 22, 2014

Ready or Not, Here I Come!


[Photo of Jesus returning in the clouds]

“No one knows about that day or hour, not even
the angels in heaven, nor the son, but only
the Father…Therefore, keep watch, because you
do not know on what day your Lord will come.”
—Matthew 24:36, 42

As recorded in Matthew 25:1-13, Jesus told his disciples a story about ten bridesmaids waiting to greet the bridegroom when he came. They were to greet him with torches (or lamps) lit. Five wise bridesmaids took a jar of extra oil with them, as the torches needed frequent refueling. The other five only had their torches. All fell asleep waiting, because the bridegroom took a long time getting there.

At midnight, the call went out that the bridegroom had arrived. The foolish bridesmaids thought they could get extra oil from the wise bridesmaids, but as it turned out, the wise bridesmaid did not feel it was prudent to give away any of their needed fuel. While the foolish bridesmaids went off to buy more oil, the bridegroom came. When the foolish bridesmaids returned, they found the door to the banquet had closed, shutting them out.

Jesus told this parable to warn all of us that He will return suddenly at a time known only to God. Unless we prepare ahead of time, we will not have time to get ready for His coming. Therefore, we must diligently stay on watch for Him and remain prepared and ready for His return.

During this time of Advent when we tend to focus more on the first coming of Jesus, we must not forget that Advent is also a time when we remember and celebrate the fact that He has promised to return in power and glory. He has not told us when or how long we will have to wait—whether we will die waiting, or actually see Him come back ourselves.

Some women know all too well the experience of not being fully prepared for the arrival of new baby when he or she suddenly decides to be born. Thinking the delivery will still be several weeks away, they have the crib on order, the nursery not quite painted, all the new clothes unwashed and laying on the bassinet. But, the baby will not wait!

In Revelation 22:7, 12, and 20, Jesus made the statement three times:

“Behold, I am coming soon!”

Jesus wants us to prepare, to watch, and to hope for His soon arrival. While we wait, we must prepare our hearts, we must keep aware of our sins, and we must look forward with anticipation, but with great care. Scripture says in 1 John 3:2-3 that:

“When he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.”

At Jesus’ first coming, many did not believe. Yet, we read in Luke 2:25-38 that the day Jesus was presented for his circumcision at the temple, Simeon, a man waiting for the “consolation of Israel,” took the baby Jesus in his arms and praised God. Also, an elderly prophetess, Anna, who had waited all her life for this day, also recognized the baby Messiah and “gave thanks to God.”

As we celebrate the first coming of Jesus, let us remember to prepare ourselves, as the five wise bridesmaids for the second. Let us say with John in Revelation 22:20:

“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”



Monday, December 15, 2014

Arise, Shine!


[Photo of white Christmas lights]

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.”
—Isaiah 60:1

What would Christmas be like without lights? We string the lights on our eaves, in our wreaths and garlands, and of course, on our trees. They brighten the night at this most gloomy time of the year.

Light as a metaphor shows up throughout Scripture. In fact, the first words God spoke in Genesis 1:2 were, “Let there be light!”

When God led the Israelites in their escape from Egypt and through forty years in the wilderness to the Promised Land, He directed their way by means of light. As it states in Exodus 13:21:

“By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.”

And where do we get the idea of lighting the night at Christmas? From Jesus Himself, and His birth. Luke 2:9 records how the angels filled the sky with light to announce His coming to the Shepherds.

Years later, when Jesus began His earthly ministry, He proclaimed in John 8:12:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

But to what does this figure of speech refer? “Light” refers to revelation.

When Jesus came to earth—and when He comes to us today—He reveals Himself to be the representation of God on earth. When we look at Him, we see the character of God, and hear His will revealed through the words of Jesus. We also see for the first time our utter sinfulness and need for a Savior.

A more astounding miracle happens when we open our lives to acknowledge the presence of Christ’s light and bend our wills to accept His revealed will. When we acknowledge His gift of forgiveness through the sacrifice He made in His death on the cross, He makes us “lights” in this dark world as well—as if we were a string of lights around the world.

In Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus said:

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

Jesus came into this world in a very “dark” time in history. In the darkness of our own sinful culture, He wants to walk into this culture through your life. He wants to show His light to others.

Enjoy the Christmas lights of this season, and let them remind you that, in the darkness of our current age, Jesus continues to shed His marvelous light.

Glory to God!



Monday, December 8, 2014

Road Work


[Photo of road work]

“A voice of one calling in the desert,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low,
the crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth,
and all mankind will see God’s salvation.’”
—Luke 3:4-6

If you live in Pennsylvania, you know something about crooked roads. The phrase “You can’t get there from here!” truly expresses the sentiment of one trying to travel from east to west in this Keystone State—especially with the Allegheny Mountains that split the Commonwealth, northeast to southwest.

My father used to say that what began as simple cow paths later became wagon trails. The wagon trails then became roads. That’s how the tangled highway system of our state began.

Apparently in Jesus’ time, the roads of Israel bore a resemblance to Pennsylvania roads. Whenever a dignitary made his intentions known to travel to a destination, those living in the region would get to work on the roads, making them level, smooth, and straight.

In similar fashion, John the Baptist spread the Word of God ahead of the coming of Jesus, just as the Prophet Isaiah had foretold in Isaiah 40:3 (as quoted by Dr. Luke in the passage at the beginning of this blog post):

A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

However popular the tradition of road repair may have been, God had a different kind of preparation in mind here. He was much more concerned about the “heart condition” of the people who called themselves faithful followers of the One True God. Over centuries, and lifetimes, their lives had become crooked and going in wrong directions.

John the Baptist said to them, “Take a look at your lives. Are you ready to receive the Messiah when He comes?” John the Baptist preached repentance, a turning from sin. He said that things needed fixing in order to hear correctly the Word of the Lord and know His salvation. Things needed to be straightened out—the people needed to take a spiritual inventory.

But what about you and me in this Advent season? In Philippians 2:15-16, the Apostle Paul told the Philippians they should take account of who God wanted them to be:

…blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.

The Messiah has come, but still calls us to make heart “inspections” and “inventory” from time to time, to check the “roads” on which Christ wants to come to us. He wants to come in new ways and with fresh applications of His Word to us.

In this Advent season, let us examine what may have become “crooked” in our lives. Then, let us prepare for a Christmas visit from our King!



Monday, December 1, 2014



[Photo of decorating a cookie]

“A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert
prepare the way for the Lord;’”
—Isaiah 40:3

Christmas preparations seem to begin earlier every year. If you’re like me, you would rather have a more leisurely time to get ready than become swept up in a last minute rush. After all, the point of the trappings, gifts, decorations, baking, and carol singing is to create an enjoyable anticipation, right?

We prepare for Christmas by shopping and gift buying, putting up the tree, baking all those special cookies and treats that our families love, and gathering with friends to sing carols. The day itself, for which we have so carefully prepared, comes and goes before we know it. But, the warm glow of the anticipation of it seems to last much longer.

If we think in spiritual terms, the holiday that celebrates the birth of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, also requires a careful preparation. We consider Advent as that time of anticipation and readiness for both the celebration of Christ’s incarnation and also for His ultimate return. We sing hymns that reflect a poverty of spirit and humble consideration of how desperate we are without the new life that Christ came to give us.

One image that often gives me pause is that of the desert. We prepare for the Lord while we wander “in the desert.” We can think of this in terms of our dry, lifeless hearts coming in expectation to God. We can also reflect on the “desert places” of our circumstances. Perhaps the year has brought distress and sadness through grief or sickness or loss. God asks us to make this “desert” a prepared place for Christ to come to us.

John the Baptist was sent to prepare the people for Jesus’ first coming. John lived in the desert and preached repentance of heart to those who so long had anticipated the coming of the Messiah. The scriptures tell us in Luke 3:2-3:

…the word of God came to John, son of Zechariah in the desert. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

So, how should we prepare our hearts for Christmas? Contemplation, repentance of sin, viewing our trials as a place for God to come and do new work in us, and considering with thanksgiving all He has done in sending Jesus to be our Savior, Lord, and King. In the words of Psalm 50:23:

He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.

As we prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth and spend time making our homes welcoming places for family and friends, we would do well to remember to do the same in our hearts. Let us truly make a welcoming place in our hearts for our Savior. Let us, indeed, “Prepare the way of the Lord!”