All Things New

The following is the December devotional I wrote for my church family. I wanted to share it with you for Christmas. I’ll be taking a break with my family (and hopefully finishing the first draft of my book) for the next few weeks, so merry Christmas to you and may the Lord draw you closer to Him in the year to come!

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

2 Corinthians 5:17

As a teenager, I believed I would die at the age of 26. I had no health problems and the number seemed arbitrary, yet the idea remained lodged in my mind.

Then in early adulthood, a series of poor decisions spiraled my life into chaos and the years slid away. My 26th birthday came and went unnoticed, eclipsed by life events more pressing than the passage of another year.

Mere weeks later, I sat on the edge of the bathtub in my apartment staring at a positive pregnancy test. Once I opened the bathroom door, I would have to face the baby’s father, a man I barely knew, and admit our lives were forever changed.

And they were. That year, that pregnancy, marked the beginning of God’s work in my life and heart – a work that took a broken, lost, and angry atheist and transformed her into a passionate lover of God, His Word, and His people.

I was a married homeschool mom of three before the Lord reminded me of my morbid adolescent certainty. Oddly enough, I’d been right. At age 26, I died to myself and begin to live for God. Everything I had been, every goal and ambition, changed radically that year. The old me had passed away; the new had come.

Nearly two decades have passed, and my life before and after Christ are as different as stone and water. To me, 2 Corinthians 5:17 is not just a pretty platitude. It is truth, raw and real.

Perhaps because of this, when I read Luke 2, I do not picture the idealized and brightly colored manger scene often displayed on Christmas cards.

Instead, I visualize sweat on Mary’s brow as she inhales the mingled stink of animal manure and blood. I feel her confusion as she wonders, “Is this how it’s supposed to be, God?” I imagine Joseph struggling to keep animals from jostling the newborn Child as they poke their noses into a trough that should hold their dinner but instead holds this Baby.

And I picture the Babe Himself lying there, straw poking His newborn skin through cloth scraps like a premonition of the nails that will one day pierce His flesh. In my mind’s eye, the shadow of the Cross obscures the Infant’s features.

Do you see it? Embodied in helpless human infancy is THE King of kings. In an unthinkable act of humility and sacrificial love, He willingly lay aside boundless power, confining Himself to the stuff of His own creation.

Learning to walk, to talk, enduring the pain of birth and of human life only to grow into a Man who will take on the sin of the world – and greater pain still – to finally settle the price of redemption for the creatures He loves. For the creatures who even now reject Him.

And someday, that King will return. Someday, He will make ALL things new. To this new creation in Christ, that is the true joy of Christmas!

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21:3-5
  • Spend some time reflecting on the implications of the Almighty confining Himself to the form of an infant human being. Is any act of humility He asks of you greater than what He has already done for you?
  • Ask the Lord to show you if you’ve been clinging to any of the “old things” from your pre-Christ life and to help you let them pass away.
  • How can you show your gratitude to God for the gift of new life in Christ He has given you?

My Christmas Wish

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Luke 2:7

There it is, recorded for posterity in anticlimactic language – the moment God came to be not only with us, but as one of us.

When I really meditate on the implications of the Almighty Creator as a human infant without even the ability to control His limbs or focus His eyes, it fills me with an emotion there are no words for. How can any act of humility be too great for me to submit to in light of what He’s done for me? How can I not feel awe and reverence and wonder?

But then… I think we humans have a great capacity to trivialize. We see the image of that first Christmas everywhere this time of year, but it is sanitized and greatly altered from the reality. Modern Nativity scenes are filled with a couple of peaceful animals, a Western-style barn, a lovely winged lady, and a small gathering of predominantly white people.

Not remotely realistic. Nor very awe-inspiring.

I wonder sometimes if in this age of rapid technological advances and torrential information overload, we’ve lost our sense of wonder? When we can describe a chocolate bar as divine or a movie as awesome, have we lost our sense of what Divinity and Awe really are?

If we have Westernized and sterilized the Nativity to the point of losing that peculiar mixture of terror and joy brought about by the Most High’s astonishing incarnation, it’s no wonder we so easily lose sight of the purpose of His birth.

Forgiveness of sin. Eternal life. These are tremendous, staggering concepts, but we so often treat them as background information – a side show to the really important stuff of shopping and eating and watching shows. Or at least that is what an objective observer would likely think by the way we spend our time and dollars.

However, no matter how fleeting our thoughts on the Blessed Event of our Savior’s birth, no matter how little value we place on the priceless gift He gave by His death and resurrection, I guarantee there will not be a single human being unaffected by His future return as King of kings!

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.

Revelation 19:11-13

Visualize that moment. It’s hard for me not to feel awe. And the crazy thing is, no matter how easy Yeshua may have been to overlook at His unassuming, anticlimactic First Advent, He will not be easily dismissed at the Second.

So today, this season, spend some time reading and reflecting on what it means that the Creator God came to earth as a human child…

That He learned to eat, crawl, talk, walk…

That He experienced the range of human experience and temptation without falling into sin…

That His only experience of sin was on the cross when He bore the weight of all of our crimes…

That He did this for YOU…

That despite the humiliation of an ignoble birth, a life devoid of worldly success, betrayal, the shame of public execution, and all of that, He will come again, but this time in all His power and splendor…

And that next time, you will recognize Him and honor Him whether you believe now or not.

Next time, there will be no decision to make; your decision will be made already – too late for some. Next time, if you haven’t chosen to surrender to Him willingly now, you will surrender… but it will be too late to be saved.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:9-11

So my Christmas wish this year is this: Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, consider my Lord Yeshua. Read His story. Think about these things. And give your life to Him so that we can talk about the wonder of His mighty saving grace for eternity.

Choose Jesus, Yeshua Messiah. Choose life.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days…

Deuteronomy 30:19-20a, emphasis mine

Tuesday Prayer: The King’s Birthday

I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life. I am yours; save me, for I have sought your precepts.

Psalm 119:93-94

My Lord and King, today is the day we celebrate Your birth as a human child. Though we don’t know the hour or the date, we do know that our almighty and eternal God did something incomprehensible: You stepped down from Your throne of glory and clothed Yourself in the flesh of Your own creation – not to proclaim Your might as Sovereign but to set us an example of humility and service by Your death. Truly, You are Immanuel – God with us.

Lord, no act of humility or service I can offer You will ever come close to matching what You’ve already done for me. Nothing in creation is worthy of wrapping up and giving to You. I have nothing to offer You on Your birthday; nothing to give that You haven’t first given to me.

All I have is my love for You and my will, such as they are. Though it may be a feeble thread of what ought to be, I offer You my love. I surrender my will to Yours and pray for the grace to remain in a posture of surrender forever.

I give You my adoration, my mind, body, and soul. These are the only gifts I can give my King, and even those exist only because You created them in me. And so as I celebrate Your birthday this year, I give You back what You’ve already redeemed as Your own. I am Yours, Lord; save me. Amen.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:14

Christmas Out of (Virtual) Office Message

Merry Christmas to all blog friends far and wide! Aside from a couple of pre-scheduled posts that I think I did earlier, I will probably be spending the next few days grabbing several quiet moments with my Lord in the middle of less quiet moments with my man and our three teenagers.

I may have time to jump over into the blogosphere and say hello, but then again, I may not. Either way, my prayer for all of you is that you will have a keen experience of joy in the salvation that comes from Yeshua Messiah alone – a joy that resonates from this day and throughout your earthly life.

May He be the Guiding Light in your dark places and the Purpose and Impetus behind your every waking moment. May His joy so flood your senses that it leaves you both oddly satisfied and yet thirsting for more.

Merry Christmas! And lest I be accused of taking myself too seriously, I leave you with this… ah, interesting perspective on an age-old Christmas carol:

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Looking for the King

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

Luke 2:25-26

During Christmastime, it’s not unusual to hear from all corners references to that ancient pair of travelers, Mary and Joseph, and their trek to Bethlehem. Songs about the birth of Jesus or the heavenly chorus which was performed for shepherd are occasionally played even on secular stations, and I’ve heard tell that some broadcasters will air A Charlie Brown Christmas complete with Linus’s recital of 2:8-14.

The story isn’t new to Christians. It isn’t even new to some who do not know the Lord. But how many continue reading in Luke past the point of the shepherds and their rejoicing? There’s more to the coming of the King than His undignified birth amidst the stench of a stable.

Forty days after His birth, the young couple would make a journey to Jerusalem because Mary’s time of purification according to Levitical law was at hand.  On this exciting day, we are told, they brought a sacrifice “according to what is said in the Law of the Lord: ‘A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.'”  (Luke 2:24)

A quick glance back to Leviticus 12:6-8 will reveal that the sacrifice of a pair of birds was a provision for those who could not afford to offer both a lamb and a bird for the ritual purification after childbirth. 

And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.”

Leviticus 12:8, see also 12:2-4, 6-7

The idea of Jesus’s humble beginnings is not new, of course, but it bears fresh meditation as we approach the day of celebration. Most of us are familiar with the fact that His first bed was not one of down and silk in a palace, but scratchy straw in a place meant to feed animals. But it strikes me even deeper that Mary and Joseph brought two birds for the sacrifice, unable to even afford a lamb for the ritual purification of the mother of the Lamb of God.  

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God…

Luke 2:25-28

Despite the lowly circumstances of His earthly parents and the complete lack of any of the trappings of royalty, two people at the temple that day recognized Him. A man named Simeon who’d received a promise that he wouldn’t die before he saw the Messiah, and an old widow named Anna.

A few years ago as I re-read this story, one fact really captured my attention as I read: Anna was at the temple that day, as she was every day, worshiping God.

… [Anna] did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke 2:37-38

 Somehow I doubt that Simeon and Anna were the only folks in the temple that day, yet they are the only ones mentioned who recognized the Messiah.

In our modern ways of worship, I sometimes fear we have allowed musical selections or environments or programs or gear or technology or a myriad other useful and even wonderful tools to drown out the simple, unassuming message of our King.

Perhaps this is more apparent at Christmastime. During the season when we are purportedly celebrating His birth, don’t we often find ourselves more caught up in the details of hymn selections and service times, or of parties and decor instead of being caught up with love and adoration of the One we are supposed to be celebrating? I confess that I sometimes do.

Don’t get me wrong – I love worship services both classic and modern and hymns both old and new. I also enjoy the entire Christmas season. But every year, I have to ask myself if I am still seeking the King in the midst of the festivities and activities. 

Anna worshiped. Simeon waited. Both recognized their King and rejoiced. What am I doing today?

I sincerely hope that I will not be found sitting in a place of worship going through the motions of devotion and somehow overlooking Him in the midst of it all! I hope that I, like Simeon and Anna, will recognize the Messiah in my days no matter how quietly and unassumingly He presents Himself.

Gracious God, forgive me for so often being concerned with the “hows” of worshiping You and neglecting actual worship. During this Advent season and forever after, help me to be alert to Your presence, looking attentively for you, eagerly anticipating Your appearance in my days as both Simeon and Anna did. May I never miss You whether You come heralded by trumpets or as subtly as a gentle whisper, amen.

Tuesday Prayer: Two Advents

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 

Revelation 19:11-13

Word of God, on this last week of Advent, we look back at Your historical first coming; a time when You laid aside Your majesty to clothe Your splendor in the substance of Your own creation, being born as a tiny infant – the Son of Man. But there is more to Advent than the past. We also look forward to that great and future Day when You will appear as the conquering King, ready to reclaim the world You’ve redeemed and rule it with justice and equity.

Oh Lord, You are the living Word of God given to mankind that we may know of Your mercy and grace. You are also Faithful and True, the only just Judge who will one day mete out the sentence for all who have refused Your generous offer of salvation in the righteousness of the Christ. Yet for those who have surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus, there is no condemnation but only the imputing of His sinless perfection and a grace we cannot earn.

This Christmas season, Lord, help us to be mindful of the incredible wonder of this, the greatest Gift ever offered. May the contemplation of Your Son be larger in our consciousness than any baking, buying, decorating, or anything else. And as we contemplate His beauty, teach us to delight in Him more and more and in this world less and less. Indeed, Your word warns that friendship with the world is enmity towards God, so please show us where we need to reject the world’s way of thinking and being in order to fully embrace Yours.

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

James 4:4

Not only for ourselves, but for those who we will encounter this Christmas season, not only our loved ones, but our co-workers, those who we see in traffic, the clerks and waiters who serve us in our purchasing and celebrating, and even for our enemies or those who treat us poorly, remind us of the urgency of the message of Christmas. Remind us, too, how we once walked as people who were dead in our sins and give us compassion for others.

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:44-45a

Break our hearts for those who stand condemned in this world and give us opportunities to share Your truth with them. Open our eyes to those who lack the hope of Christ to make life’s pain bearable. Even if they are hostile towards our efforts, still goad us to diligently pray for them even as we praise and glorify You by our actions, words, and choices in their presence. Lord, if we could ask for one more gift this Christmas, please give us the privilege of seeing many come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ our Lord, amen. 

Putting Christ in Christmas

**NOTE: This was originally published on 2014, shortly after I began this blog. I thought I’d revive it this month while keeping my digital time to a minimum in order to maximize time with my fast-growing teens…

After studying in James, I have been thinking a great deal about what escapes my mouth. I have been made mindful of overly-harsh tones of voice as well as barely-murmured grumblings, and each instance has prompted repentance. However, I have also become aware of less blatantly sinful words, of vacant phrases that have a pleasing sound, but if not well-fleshed in action and attitude, are nothing but the hollow clanging of bells or the resonance of a gong — indeed, nothing more than pretty noise.

Sometimes I think that Christmas time is the worst for this sort of thing. I have heard my voice among the crowd of brethren reciting cheerful platitudes and yet going about my December days no differently than my unbelieving friends and neighbors.

Saying things like, “Jesus is the reason for the season,” does not, in fact, make Him my focus for the season. It is just a thing to say, a thing that sounds good to the ears but is really a distraction from the true focus on worldly matters often going on within. Oh what a smug fool I have been to utter such blather and yet entirely fail to live it out!

Friends (and others), I confess: I have been guilty of hypocrisy, of stoutly proclaiming, “Put Christ back in CHRISTmas!” while actually putting Him in the “optional” section of my seasonal to-do list. Too many Christmases have gone by in which I was so busy getting ready for the celebration of the Lord’s birthday that I utterly failed to spend quality time with the Guest of honor.

But He is gracious. He has exercised patience with me for years, drawing me closer, humbling my heart, and giving me abundant reasons to love Him more. This Christmas, I have chosen a more lonely-looking path but one that I have found to be more rewarding. I have simplified my celebrations, which sometimes means saying “no” to many fun and even good things so I can say “yes” to what God is telling me to do.

Finally, finally, after years of knowing what I ought to do, I have begun to actually make time with the Lord a priority. Nor is it done out of shame or remorse or even obligation as I confess I have been guilty of in the past. No, now this time is something I crave, an immense yearning to know Him better, an unquenchable thirst for His presence. This time I have not put Him on my to-do list at all. I have turned the thing over to Him entirely and then taken my place at His feet, listening as He tells me what it is on each day’s agenda.

Do I always get it right, then? Am I saying I have this business nailed down? No, I am not saying that at all. In truth, sometimes I listen with half an ear, impatient to get moving or I re-prioritize my day according to what I think is best. But I am beginning to change my habits, beginning to allow my mind to be truly transformed. No, I certainly have not yet obtained it, but I press on toward the goal… and don’t think for a moment that I am particularly gifted or disciplined. By His grace, any of us can do it.

So will you join me in trying something different this year? Let’s resolve not only to put Christ in Christmas–let’s put him in our morning commute. Let’s put Christ in the way we speak to our spouse or our children, in the way we respond to a grouchy grocery clerk, in the way we reply when someone speaks hatefully to us, in the way we react to praise.

Let’s put Christ in the numerous menial tasks that occupy our days. Let’s put Christ in our private thoughts, in our entertainment, in our decision-making, in our giving, and in our receiving. Let’s put Christ in ALL we do for all of our day and on every day, for with joyful exhilaration we can celebrate the eternal gift of Immanuel: God with us. Every single day.

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). Matthew 1:21-23