A Valentine for 365 Days

Universally, the heart is a symbol of love. However, on February 14, the heart is commercialized in more ways than one can imagine. Greeting cards are created in the shape of hearts decorated with lace and flowers. Heart-shaped boxes enfold decadent chocolates. Bouquets of red roses with a plastic heart stuck in the middle are advertised. Even fluffy stuffed animals portraying love are for sale. Whatever the expression of love, there is always a heart included with the sentiment “Be My Valentine.”

Why magnify love only one day of the year? True love lasts longer than one day. Love is more than a few romantic words composed by Hallmark. Love is more valuable than commercial stuff. God’s love is lavished upon us 365 days of the year. (see I John 3:1) God is love according to I John 4:8.

Let’s make a few comparisons between what God says about love and what the marketing industry sells.

The Greek language has several unique words for love. Agape is God’s love – selfless love. Eros is passionate or romantic love. Valentine’s Day focuses on Eros.

Here are images of angels. Cupid is the valentine angel. In classical mythology, Cupid is the god of erotic love. A cupid is described as a winged being symbolic of love.

In comparison, we see an image of Michael, God’s archangel. Micheal is a warring angel who fights for us. (see Revelation 12:7-9) In Revelation 5:11, John heard the voice of “thousands upon thousands and tens thousand times ten thousand” angels. Too many angels to count! Psalm 91:11 a  loving verse telling each of us about our personal guardian angel. Weapons are evident in these images. In the valentine image, Cupid is shooting an arrow with his bow. On many valentines, there is an arrow of love aimed for the beloved’s heart. Is this truly romantic?

The other image is symbolic of the sword of the Spirit – part of God’s armor. (see Ephesians 6:18) The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. Offensively, God’s Word can penetrate the unbeliever’s heart allowing him/her to experience the love of God. Much more powerful than an arrow!Is love costly? Looking on the back of a valentine card, one discovers how expensive a particular piece of folded paper can be. Is Eros love worth this amount of money?

Agape love cost Jesus His life. That’s costly! Romans 5:8 NLT says, “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” And I Corinthians 6:20 says, “God bought you with a high price.”Pictured above is an old-fashioned valentine. On a flimsy piece of paper, a cute little angel says, “It would be heavenly to have you for my Valentine.” Although this might be a sweet sentiment, there is no sincere commitment.

In contrast, God reveals His love for us throughout the Bible. In Revelation 21 and 22, the angel of the Lord shows John the new heaven and the new earth that will last throughout eternity. The Lord’s love endures forever.  (see  I Chronicles 16:34)

So, forget the commercial hype of Valentine’s Day. Concentrate on God’s  love. Listed below are  scriptural love notes from God. (Emphasis is by the writer.)

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God.
I John 4:7

The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
I John 4:8

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.
But
the greatest of these is love.
I Corinthians 13:13

and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us
and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Ephesians 5:2

(Click on images to find the credit for appropriate images.)

 

 

 

 

 

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No Messy Manger for the Magi

 

While packing away our nativity scene for another year, I reminisce about the significance of each figure. I hold the Magi, or Wise Men, a little longer because I have not blogged about them in the past weeks. I must take time to ponder and print a few words about these men before this season is complete.

According to the Christian calendar, Saturday, January 6, 2018, is the church festival of Epiphany which commemorates the Magi coming to see Jesus. This was the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles because the Magi were not men of Jewish background.

Little is known about these mysterious Magi except that they were seeking a specific baby. Matthew 2:1-12 is the only scriptural account. For an extended time, these men determinedly followed a star. I think they would have visited a messy manger if God’s star had led them to that location. However, we can assume that they were still traveling when Jesus was born in the messy manger. Some say it possibly was as long as two years before the Magi found Jesus. Maybe these Magi represent those who are still traveling the road of life looking for Jesus today.

Although not historically accurate, these men have sometimes been referred to as kings. (Maybe because of the Christmas carol We Three Kings.) Chuck Missler has said that over time the truth and traditions about these men have been embellished. By the third century, the Magi were viewed as kings. I wonder if this perspective has anything to do with the fact that the day is coming when Jesus reigns as King of kings. (See Revelation 19:16) Missler has also written that these ancient men were part of the hereditary priesthood of the Medes. They were known for having profound and extraordinary religious knowledge. Here is another correlation – Jesus becomes the great high priest. (See Hebrews 6:20) If we associate kings and priests with the Magi, maybe we are types of Magi because Revelation 1:6 NKJV says, “(Jesus) has made us kings and priests to God his Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever!”

The Wise Men may not have been totally wise about whom they were seeking. They simply expected to find the one born king of the Jews by following a star. These men even stopped in Jerusalem to ask Herod what he knew about the baby. (see Matthew 2:2) While the Wise Men were not necessarily looking for an infant king in a castle’s cradle, neither were they expecting to find him in a messy manger. They just wanted to find Jesus! Matthew 7:7 says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Although the Wise Men may not have been wise in every respect, they were wise enough to seek him. There is truth in the quote, “Wise men still seek Him.” Today, Jesus wants us to seek and to find Him.

John 1:11 says, “He (Jesus) came to that which was His own (the Jewish people), but His own did not receive Him.” John MacArthur points out that the Magi were “God-fearing, seeking Gentiles.” They followed a star that led them to the Messiah they had heard about since the days of Daniel. Through scripture, we know that Jesus came first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. (See Romans 1:16) In a previous post, “Messy Shepherds at a Messy Manger,”  I noted that shepherds were the first to visit Jesus when he was born in a messy manger. They were of Jewish lineage. Significantly later, the Magi worshiped Jesus –  they were Gentiles. According to Romans 14:11, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord – that includes both Jews and Gentiles. Matthew 2:11 says, “On coming to the house, they (the Magi) saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.”

The word “epiphany” originated in the Greek language and means “manifestation.” The worshiping Magi portray the picture of Epiphany because this season of the church celebrates the appearance or “manifestation” of a divine being, namely Jesus. However, an epiphany can also be defined as a sudden perception or revelation. In others words, a new understanding is “manifested.” Each of us encounters our own epiphanies when we come to illuminating discoveries or realizations. An enlightening fact of faith is an example of an epiphany. Or, it might be a moment when we become increasingly aware of Jesus’ presence. Since it is the beginning of the new year of 2018, now is a good opportunity for each of us to set the goal of becoming more receptive to personal epiphanies. May our epiphanies cause us to bow down and worship our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

 

Manger to Mansion for Me

Christmas is past but our house is still a mess because of our celebration. Consequently, I continue to think about the messy manger. What a mess! Messy manger – messy world – messy house – is there a “messy me” as well?

Throughout Advent, we unpacked how Jesus was born in a messy manger. We came to the conclusion that He is not uncomfortable in our messy hearts or the messy world today. However, Jesus does not leave us in a mess. Philippians 3:20a assures us, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” Yet, there is a preparation process. Acts 3:19 tells us to, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” Another verse to consider is I Thessalonians 3:13, “May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all His holy ones.” When Jesus returns, whether our hearts are messy or cleaned up will determine where we will spend eternity. Listen to what Jesus says about His coming again in Revelation 22:12, “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.”

As a young girl, I heard a fictional story of a little boy who reminisced on Christmas night about the joy of celebrating the holiday. At the end, the boy said, “Now I have to wait 365 days to celebrate Christmas again!” According to the calendar, this is true. However, Christmas is more than one day of festivities. While Christmas is a celebration of the first coming of Jesus to earth as a baby, He promises to come again. No one knows the time when He will return – it may be tomorrow or it may be in another 365 days or it may be more years than we can comprehend. Luke 12:40 informs us, “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

While living on earth, Jesus promised in John 14:2-3, “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. When Jesus first came to earth, we gave Him a messy manger. Now, He is preparing a majestic mansion for us in heaven. What a contrast! When I refer to the manger of Jesus, I am speaking of the natural world, but when I refer to the mansion Jesus is preparing, I am speaking of the spiritual world. Continuing with this comparison, we can say that Jesus experienced a natural birth to make it possible for us to be spiritually born again. In John 3:3 NLT Jesus emphasizes, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God” John 3:16 clearly states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” When our spirits are born again, we are assured of eternal life. Today, we are waiting for Him to come again to earth to take us to His spiritual mansion. In summary, we can say that Jesus humbled himself when He came to earth and lived in a temporal home as a human being so that we can be lifted up into the mansion He prepares as our eternal home. John tells us in Revelation 21:3-5, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.’ And He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’”

When Jesus was born as a baby, most people missed His coming. As far as we know, many residents of Bethlehem were oblivious to His birth. However, when He comes again no one will miss Him. Luke 21:27 says, “they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” And, within Revelation 1:7 we are told,”… every eye will see Him….” During December we have taken time to prepare for Christmas. Now as we near the beginning of a new year, may we take time to prepare our hearts for Jesus’ second coming. Let’s clean up our messy mangers. We do not want to miss His return!

Jesus: Majestic, not Messy

In a few days, we will be celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior! My heart and our home are ready. Our house looks “Christmasy.” My attention continues to be drawn to our nativity. With the little lights of the stable twinkling and the infant Jesus in the spotlight, Christ is the center of our Christmas scene. Today I see Jesus – not the messy manger. What if there were cobwebs and straw piles along with some dung around the manger that night over 2000 years ago? My focus is on Jesus. He is the light and the life. Today I want to correlate several verses of the first chapter of Ephesians in the Living Letters translation with the birth of Jesus as recorded in Luke 2:7 NIV.

Now she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths,
and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Luke 2:7
NIV

When Jesus, Son of God and Son of man, was born, Mary used a cow’s feeding trough for a cradle. However, before she laid him on his bed, she tightly wrapped him in a clean blanket. What a discrepancy between the purity of the newborn baby and the messy manger!

Long ago before He made the world God chose us o be His very own,
through what Christ would do for us; He decided then to make us holy in His eyes,
without a single fault –
we who stand before him covered with His love.
Ephesians 1:4 LL

I focus on the highlighted portion of this verse. While thinking about Jesus wrapped in swaddling cloths, I also picture myself swaddled in God’s love. All of us are privileged to be tightly wrapped in God’s perfect love even though we live in a world that appears to be like a messy manger.

Now all praise to God for His wonderful kindness to us and His favor that
He has poured out upon us because
we belong to His dearly loved Son.
Ephesians 1:6 LL

When Jesus was born, his cradle was a cow’s feeding trough. Thirty-three years later, he died on the cross creating the way for us to belong to Him. We no longer have to be controlled by the world’s mess. Jesus cleans up the messiness of our lives when He cleanses us from all unrighteousness. (See I John 1:9) As the emphasized words proclaim, we belong to Jesus, not the world’s messy manager.

And this was His purpose: that when the time is ripe He will gather us
all together from wherever we are – in heaven or on earth-
to be with Him – in Christ – forever.
Ephesians 1:10 LL

According to Matthew 1:23, Emmanuel was the name of the baby to be born of Mary and conceived by the Holy Spirit. Emmanuel means God with us. Emmanuel came to be with us at Christmas. Emmanuel will be with us forever! He is coming again to rescue us from the world’s messy manger. He will then take us to live with Him in the eternal city where He now resides in the throne room of God. (See Revelation 22:1-5) What a difference from the messy manger! Jesus says in Revelation 22:7, “Behold, I am coming soon!”

I pray for you constantly asking God the glorious Father
of our Lord Jesus Christ to give you wisdom to
see clearly
and really understand who Christ is and all He has done.
Ephesians 1:17 LL

While gazing at the figure of baby Jesus in our nativity scene, I no longer see a messy manger. I  envision His majesty. He did not stay in a wooden cradle. He later died upon a wooden cross and rose again as the Savior of all who live in a messy world. Philippians 2:5-11 LL says, “Try to be like Jesus Christ Who, though He was God, did not demand and cling to His rights as God, but laid aside His mighty power and glory, taking the disguise of a slave and becoming like men. And he humbled Himself even further, going so far as to actually die a criminal’s death on a cross. Yet it was because of this that God raised Him up in the heights of heaven and gave Him a Name which is above every other name, That at the Name of Jesus every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, And every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

In honor of the birth of Jesus, please join me in singing the first verse of Away In A Manger and the chorus of O Come All Ye Faithful.


Away in a manger, no crib for a bed
The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head
The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay
The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

O come let us adore him
O come let us adore him
O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord!

 

 

Messy Shepherds at a Messy Manger

Each day we are 24 hours closer to celebrating the birth of Christ. Although things are still a little messy around our house with Christmas preparations, I still need to take time to prepare my heart for the holidays. Once again, I stop to examine the figures of our nativity scene. Today my attention is drawn to the wooden shepherd. According to the scriptures, the shepherds were in a nearby field taking care of their sheep that starry night when Jesus was born. Suddenly, an angel personally delivered to them the birth announcement of the Savior of the world! They immediately decided to go see this baby. What a glorious birthing party they attended when they arrived at the stable in Bethlehem where they found Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus! (See Luke 2:8-20)

The shepherds did not bother to change clothes before they searched for this baby boy. They were dirty sheep tenders who lived in the open fields with their sheep. Currently, however, they were more concerned about finding the infant than they were about their appearance. It was probably natural for them to begin their quest for this little one in a stable since they were shepherds. Well, I guess they did have help from an angel. The messy manger was a location where the shepherds were comfortable.

I notice that when the shepherds went to Bethlehem, they left their sheep in the fields. Did they realize they were going to welcome the Lamb of God to this earth? (see John 1:29) Was this newborn babe worthy of a higher priority than taking care of their flock of sheep? Why would the Lamb of God be in a messy stable?

Although the shepherds had little knowledge about the infant who was introduced to them as the Savior Christ the Lord, I wonder if they felt a prophetic kinship with him. When they saw him, did they comprehend who he would become? Let us fast forward about 30 years when Jesus compares his life to that of a shepherd in John 10. In verses 1-6, Jesus shares about how sheep recognize the voice of their shepherd while they do not respond to the call of a hired hand. In verses 7-10, Jesus describes himself as the gate for sheep and in verses 11-18, he reveals himself as the good shepherd. Wow! When the shepherds visited Jesus, he was a baby in a manger. As a man, he became the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep. What a future for the infant born in a manger!

The messy shepherds were comfortable around the Christ child because they found him in a messy manger. Today, Jesus is comfortable with our messy lives because He experienced a messy manger. According to John 1:29, He is the Lamb of God who takes away our sins, the messiness of our lives. Jesus is also the Good Shepherd who wants to take care of us and guide us so we will not get into more messes. Psalm 23 portrays an excellent example of a shepherd’s job physically and spiritually.

In conclusion, messy shepherds came just as they were, and that is how Jesus wants us to come to Him. I am reminded of the hymn Just As I Am with lyrics by Charlotte Elliott. Please join me in singing or reciting the first two verses of this hymn. It is a good way for us to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bid’st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot;
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Mary and the Messy Manger

As I survey my surroundings, I am aware of Christmas stuff scattered around our home.  While listening to the news reports, I hear of turmoil throughout the world.  Wherever I turn, there is another mess.  I pick up the hand-carved figure of Mary in our nativity scene and realize there were some messy situations in her life as well.  

I wonder what thoughts went through Mary’s mind that night when Christ was born. Most likely, she expected the birth of her first child to take place in a warm, cozy room. She may have imagined herself being surrounded by family and relatives in her hometown of Nazareth. I am quite sure she did not expect her newborn’s cradle to be a feeding trough shared with a cow! After all, who would choose a messy manger in the little town of Bethlehem for the birth of a baby? The answer – God. As Heavenly Father, God chose a messy manger for the birth of His Son! Mary’s perception was interrupted by the Lord’s plans and purposes. God did not do things predictably over 2000 years ago, and He still often does not do things as we expect.

Our Heavenly Father has plans and purposes for each of us as His kids. However, His plans for Jesus, His only begotten Son, were special. (see Jeremiah 29:11 and John 3:16) Being conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of Mary, Jesus came to earth not only to live but to die. He died so that we can be born again. (See John 3:3) Jesus relinquished His position beside His Heavenly Father to be born into the world’s messy manger and 33 years later to die for us. Although our lives may look like messy mangers, we are given the opportunity to die to ourselves and be born again. Then we receive the gift of eternal life. The sacred cycle of life and death occurs both physically and spiritually.

While holding the figure of Mary in my hands, I meditate upon the fact that Mary was privileged to hold God in her hands. She was the mom of Jesus. She was the first person to give God in the flesh a hug. Mary experienced a miracle firsthand!

The night of Jesus’ birth, Mary held him in her arms. In a few weeks, Jesus grasped Mary’s finger in response to her holding his little hand. I am reminded of how a person can wrap someone around their little finger. It is possible for a person to gain control over another individual and make that person do whatever one wishes. Although Christ desires to have preeminence in our lives, He allows us to make that choice. (See Colossians 3:18) I must admit that I would rather be held in the arms of Christ than for me to wrap Him around my little finger! Deuteronomy 33:27 says, “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

Although the inanimate figure of Mary does not allow my hands to feel her heartbeat, another image of the closeness of Mary and the infant Jesus comes to my mind. I see Mary Mom holding Jesus close to her heart allowing him to hear her heartbeat while she is feeling the rhythm of his heart. Today Jesus wants us to hold Him close to our hearts so that He can hear our heartbeat and we can feel His. He gives each of us a new heart – a heart that is in love with Him. (See Ezekiel 36:26-27) God is love. Jesus is God. So, Jesus is love. Mary had the privilege of holding love in her arms. Now we have the privilege of holding Jesus, the love of God, in our hearts when we personally invite Him into our lives. (See I John 4:7-17)  Jesus in our hearts can help us handle the messiness of our lives.

My Reader, may you experience the love of Jesus in your heart.  Please join me in either singing or repeating the words of the first verse of the Christmas song Love Came Down at Christmas by Christina Rossetti.

Love came down at Christmas,
love all lovely, Love divine;
Love was born at Christmas;
star and angels gave the sign.

Joseph Knocks and Gets a Messy Manger

 

 

Christmas is coming and I am beginning to decorate our home for this sacred season. One of my favorite focal points is our nativity set of olive wood figurines depicting the scene of Jesus’ birth. I meticulously place Mary and Joseph in the center of our crèche with baby Jesus in a little manger between them. There is a kneeling shepherd along with a few animals. I stand one sheep on a small bale of hay and scatter a few pieces of straw on the stable’s floor. I place the wise men to one side of the barn since they have not yet arrived upon the scene. Hmmm. Is this how Jesus’ birthplace really looked that night so many years ago? I don’t think so. Sharon Garlough Brown, in her book Barefoot, describes the birthing scene as a messy manger. This may be more accurate.

As a potentially more authentic picture, I imagine dirty cattle huddled in a corner stall swishing their tails to keep away flies and insects while their feeding trough now holds a tiny baby rather than grain and hay. This dilapidated barn shelters a donkey and a few sheep while pigeons flutter in the roof rafters. Jesus most likely was born in a messy manger – He was born into a messy world.

From now until Christmas, we are going to look closely at one figure of the Nativity scene each week. Today we begin with Joseph.

Joseph was betrothed to Mary and they had marriage plans. That is until Mary told him that she was going to have a baby conceived by the Holy Spirit. Joseph did not fully understand all Mary was saying, but he did know he was not the father. What a mess! Joseph considered divorcing Mary quietly but then God told him in a dream to go ahead and take her as his wife. (see Matthew 1:18-25) As the time drew closer for the baby to be born, Caesar Augustus decided to take a census that required Joseph to register in Bethlehem. Mary went along. (see Luke 2:1-5) Then things get even messier because Mary went into labor. Joseph had to be wondering where this uniquely conceived baby would soon be born. Surely God would provide a special place for His Son to be born! Well, yes, God did provide a special place, but it was not where Joseph expected.

Upon arriving in Bethlehem, Joseph began persistently knocking on the doors of inns and homes seeking a place to stay. No room! Ugh! Because all these doors were slammed shut in his face, Joseph was only able to provide Mary with an unsanitary stable for the birthing place of her baby. Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, was born in a messy manger.

I wonder if Joseph’s continuous knocking prophetically portrayed how in years to come Jesus would stand at the door of each person’s heart repeatedly knocking and seeking entrance. Jesus lets us know in Revelation 3:20, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Joseph pounded on many doors that were never opened, or if they were opened, there was no available occupancy because of the crowd of travelers in Bethlehem for the census. Today as Jesus knocks on the door of each of our hearts, are we open to letting Him come in and take up residence within us, or are we allowing other things to crowd out His place in our lives? Listen to the words of the Lord in Proverbs 23:26, “Give me your heart and let your eyes delight in my ways.”

Jesus was born in a messy manger into a chaotic world. When He was born in a messy manger, Jesus revealed that He was not picky about His surroundings. Jesus came as Emmanuel; He came to be God with us. (see Matthew 1:23) Today, Jesus is willing to come into the mess of our lives and cleanse of all unrighteousness. I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Knock! Knock! Is that Jesus knocking at the door of your heart? He wants to come in and celebrate His birth with you. He doesn’t care if your life is a little discombobulated. It will remind Him of the night over 2000 years ago when His bed was a messy manger. Answer His knock by joining me in singing or repeating the lyrics of Into My Heart found below.

Into my heart, into my heart,
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus;
Come in today, come in to stay,
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.