Tag Archives: Manger

What Just Happened?

‘America’s Got Talent’ has given birth to not only many careers, but to some catch phrases as well. Perhaps one of the most familiar is exclaimed by Mel B. (1) when she’s overwhelmed by a brilliant, exciting unexpected performance: “What just happened?” I think we can ask the same questions during this week following Christmas. We celebrated a brilliant, exciting, mysterious unexpected event – Almighty God sent His Son to earth to be born in human flesh. But can we fully grasp and understand it? Or do we need to ask, “What just happened?” Why would God ask His Son to give up all the glories and power of Heaven to take on human flesh? “What just happened?”

Perhaps the simplest answer is “God demonstrated His love.” May the following serve to clarify and heighten the impact.

Three days before Christmas a mother was busy getting ready for the big day and she asked her little son to shine her good shoes for her. A little later, with a smile that only a 7-year old could flash, he presented the shoes for inspection. The mother was pleased with the result and rewarded him with a quarter. On Christmas day, as she was putting on her shoes to go to church, she noticed a lump in one shoe. Taking off the shoe, she found the quarter wrapped in paper. Written on the paper in a child’s scrawl were these words: “I done it for love.” When Jesus came to save us He “done it for love!”

Roy Lessin has written poignantly, “God knew we could never buy our way to Him – the cost was too great; we could never earn our way to Him – the task was too great; we could never will our way to Him – the commitment was too great. God knew we could never come to Him…so He came to us!”

Describing it all the Bible simply says, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son…” (John 3:16) He ‘done it all for love’ – expecting nothing in return.

May you experience His deep, broad and overpowering love – His abundance of grace upon grace – in amazing ways this Christmas and throughout 2019.

(1) https://www.breakingnews.ie/showbiz/mel-b-grateful-for-christmas-after-going-through-hell-and-back-in-dark-year-892513.html

Manger: nativity-walter-chavez-300070-unsplash

Exquisite Timing

When was the last time you said to someone, “Your timing was exquisite?” Or “Wow – what perfect timing?” It’s always amazing when someone shows up or does something – or something happens – at just the right time.

As we prepare for Christmas over the next weeks, I’ll be focusing on one of my favorite biblical passages which gets to the heart of Christmas and also to the heart of some exquisite timing. The passage is Galatians 4:1-7. This week focus on just the opening words of verse 4: “But when the time was right, God sent his Son…”

“But when the time was right…” Why does Paul say the timing was right? History gives us the answer. Because of the conquests of Alexander the Great Rome had reached a pinnacle of power unknown before. And Alexander was determined to spread the Greek culture throughout the world, so everything he did, including instituting a common language, set the stage for culture, for communication, for religion to have an impact. It was also a time of great, prolonged peace – 200 years with no major conflict. Never before, or since, has there been peace for so long a period. Therefore, with no pre-occupation with war, people had time to listen, discuss, and debate. Then, too, Caesar built a marvelous and extensive system of military roads so, if needed, the armies could travel quickly and efficiently. Therefore the roads were in place for Christ’s legions to travel with the message of the resurrection. And as for Israel’s history, she had been conquered and disbursed many times. Therefore, wherever Jesus or His disciples would go, there would be some Jews already there. Religiously, old religions were dying; the old philosophies were empty and powerless to change people’s lives. Strange new mystery religions were everywhere. In so many ways, the time was right.

So when the time was right, when the clock was ready to toll, Jesus was born. In Paul’s words, “God sent his Son…” The word ‘sent’ means sending with a commission to do something, with the person being sent having the right credentials. Jesus, the Son of God, was sent to save us. The purpose, the aim of His coming was our salvation, our health, our wholeness, our peace. It is my firm belief that God still sends His Son, still comes down to us, when the time is right. Though we sometimes feel  He’s not concerned or not going to help or come to our aid or answer our prayers, He always comes. And He never comes too early and never too late. In Gal. 3:11-12 Paul put it, “The person who lives in right relationship with God does it by embracing what God arranges for him.” (The Message)

The wonderful poet Helen Steiner Rice wrote beautifully about God’s timing:

God’s love endureth forever –
what a wonderful thing to know
When the tides of life run against you
And your spirit is downcast and low…

God’s kindness is ever around you,
Always ready to freely impart
Strength to your faltering spirit,
Cheer to your lonely heart…

God’s presence is ever beside you,
As near as the reach of your hand,
You have but to tell Him your troubles,
There is nothing He won’t understand…

And knowing God’s love is unfailing,
And His mercy unending and great,
You have but to trust in His promise –
“God comes not too soon  or too late.”

So wait with a heart that is patient
For the goodness of God to prevail –
For never do prayers go unanswered,
And His mercy and love never fail.”

So we can stop trying to make all the arrangements for our lives; stop trying to fit all the stitches together. We can stop panicking and lessen our worry and doubt. We can wait with anticipation for God to come. After all,  “… those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:29-31 New Revised Standard Version)

Family Time

Christmas means it’s time to remember the family. But not the family that probably first comes to mind. Paul, to a distressed young church in Corinth wrote “God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:9) Through Christmas God has called us into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ. And make no mistake about it – fellowship with Jesus Christ has outstanding, life-changing benefits.

One of those benefits is that we have a divine position. “To the church of God in Corinth, those sanctified in Christ Jesus…” (1 Cor. 1:2) Paul says we are sanctified which means God has set us apart in Jesus Christ., Paul says the same thing in many of his letters when he refers to Christians as ‘saints.’ We are saints. Too often we think of sainthood as an honor or title for some ‘super Christian’ who has died and is posthumously honored. But the Good News is all who have been set apart in Jesus by God are saints. It refers to ownership, not to an earned right.

Through a manger in Bethlehem God has brought us into fellowship with Jesus. In doing so He has brought us into His family. What’s amazing is that Paul is referring to the Corinthian church. If ever a church was far short of what it ought to be, this was it. Immorality was rampant, a code of ethics was all but non-existent, and her theology was badly tainted. Yet, says Paul, her members are sanctified – they are saints. And so are we! Because of Christmas we have been given the position of being children of God – brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ! At our baptisms, God put his mark, his seal, his brand upon us. He gave us the same royal status as that of His Son!

Did you ever slice an onion? What does the core of an onion look like? What’s the substance of an onion? There is no core or substance. An apple has a core. Plums and peaches have pits. But an onion is merely the sum total of its layers. It is so easy for us to simply become the sum total of what others expect or want us to be. There’s a layer for the boss, one for the spouse, one for the children, one for the coach, one for the church. Soon we lose track of our identity. Never forget who you are! You are a brother, a sister, of Jesus Christ. You are a saint!

In the town of Stepanavan, Armenia, there was a woman whom everyone called ‘Palasan’s wife.’ She had her own name but townspeople called her by her husband’s name to her great honor. Palasan was at work when the devastating earthquake struck Armenia in 1988. He rushed to his son’s elementary school. The façade was already crumbling, but he entered the building and began pushing children outside to safety. After Palasan had managed to help 28 children out, an aftershock hit that completely collapsed the building and killed him. So the people of Stepanavan honor his memory and his young widow by calling her Palasan’s wife. Sometimes a person’s greatest honor is not who they are but to whom they are related. “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13) We are related to the one who died for us, Jesus Christ. We are saints! We are brothers and sisters of Jesus!

There’s a wonderful story someone wrote about her grandmother and aunt. “My grandmother sent the wherewithal to Holland for her sister Greta to immigrate to America. Thrilled at the prospect of seeing my grandmother again after twenty-five years, Greta booked passage on the first steamer leaving Rotterdam, settling for accommodations in steerage rather than waiting for another six months to travel in the grand style that her relatives had planned for her. A thoughtful purser, familiar with this common choice among families anxious for reunions, discreetly offered the hospitality of the upper decks of the ship during the day. Greta declined this privilege, however, and remained sequestered in her dark, rancid, and noisy quarters for the fourteen long days of her journey. My aunt called this ‘minding one’s place.’ She never presumed that there was anything more to sailing across the menacing Atlantic Ocean than enduring volcanic tosses from her mildewed perch until reaching land safely on the other side. Only on disembarking in New York Harbor did Greta behold what she had been missing. On those upper decks that she had regarded as off limits were tapestries, chandeliers, wood-carved cornices, oriental rugs, silver, gleaming crystal, and buffets laden with exotic and plentiful food and drink. Most alarming of all, though, there were people just like Aunt Greta, stranded in fourth-class sleeping accommodations, who had accepted the invitation of the venerable steamship company and had toddled above to enjoy the treasures daily. ‘Imagine,’ my aunt would gasp. ‘It could all have been mine, too, had I only said yes.”

God, through Jesus Christ, has put us in His family and invited us to live in royalty. Will you live in the dingy, damp, dark basement quarters, or will you say ‘Yes’ to Jesus and enjoy the royal rooms? We are Christ’s. As Christmas approaches let’s remember that we are His family. That will make a lot of difference not only in our attitude but in how we live.

Break Ins


Have you ever been the victim of a robbery? Over the years I have had an office, a church and a home broken into. It’s upsetting to have someone forcibly enter into our private space. It arouses, among other emotions fear, anger, distrust and suspicion. We feel threatened. Our private space is meant to be just that – private. The space belongs to us. It’s a place of security and safety. It is, we believe, ours by right. So it’s shattering when it is invaded.

I wonder if that’s why some people resist God. He is, after all, the Master at breaking in. He breaks into our personal, private spaces. He invades our time, talents and treasures. He wants to plant our steps, direct our decisions, plan our plans, provide our thoughts and manage our circumstances. He wants exclusive rights to our hearts. He arouses, among other emotions fear, anger, distrust and suspicion. He can be threatening.

Yet at this Advent time of year we celebrate God’s breaking into our lives in the most personal of ways. It was personal for Him: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” It was personal for us: “…that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” And it was an answer to the prayers of His people. Consider the payer of Isaiah (64:1-12):

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
2 As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
and cause the nations to quake before you!
3 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
4 Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
5 You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
you were angry.
How then can we be saved?
6 All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
7 No one calls on your name
or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have given us over to our sins.
8 Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
9 Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord;
do not remember our sins forever.
Oh, look on us, we pray,
for we are all your people.
10 Your sacred cities have become a wasteland;
even Zion is a wasteland, Jerusalem a desolation.
11 Our holy and glorious temple, where our ancestors praised you,
has been burned with fire,
and all that we treasured lies in ruins.
12 After all this, Lord, will you hold yourself back?
Will you keep silent and punish us beyond measure?

This was a prayer on behalf of Israel for God to ‘come down’, to break in, to invade their private spaces, to rescue their lives and souls. Eventually God broke in. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

It is my hope and prayer that during this advent season you will be expectant and aware of how often God breaks into your life. Mother Frances Dominica wrote of this poignantly:

“He leads through all the events, all the circumstances of your life. Nothing in your life is so insignificant, so small, that God cannot be found at its centre. We think of God in the dramatic things the glorious sunsets, the majestic mountains, the tempestuous seas; but he is the little things too, in the smile of a passer-by or the gnarled hands of an old man, in a daisy, a tiny insect, falling leaves. God is in the music, in laughter and in sorrow too. And the grey times, when monotony stretches out ahead, these can be the times of steady, solid growth into God.

God may make himself known to you through the life of someone who, for you, is an ambassador for God, in whom you can see the beauty and truth and the love of God…It may be that there is someone who loves you so deeply that you dare to believe that you are worth loving and so you can believe that God’s love for you could be possible after all. Sometimes it is through tragedy or serious illness that God speaks to our hearts and we know him for the first time. There is no limit to the ways in which God may make himself known. At every turn in our lives there can be a meeting place with God…God makes his home in you (John 14:23).Isn’t this the answer to all our yearning, our searching, our anguish, to all the longing, the incompleteness of our lives and loving? (1)

May you recognize and celebrate God’s break-ins into your life in this season of His coming.

(1) From Prayer, by Mother Frances Dominica, as quoted in A Guide to Prayer, Rueben P. Job, Norman Shawchuck, The Upper Room, Nashville TN, © 1983