Presents of His Presence

Yesterday was Christmas. Most of us gave and received gifts. No longer are there brightly wrapped packages under the tree. All the presents have been exchanged. So, how are you today? Is your heart feeling as empty as it looks under the Christmas tree? Psalm 73:26 says, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Material stuff does not satisfy the heart indefinitely. I wonder if we gave and received the most meaningful gift possible yesterday.

John 3:16 says, 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.” We may say we give Christmas gifts because God gave. This is good – but do our gifts reflect what God gave? I want to think about this more deeply.

What did God give? He gave His Son. He gave of Himself. He gave Emmanuel – God with us.

What are we to give? We are to give Him. We are to give His presence – not just store presents.

Our goal should be to present (offer) to others the present (gift) of His presence (God with us). God is omnipresent – so He is present everywhere. Jesus assures us in Matthew 28:20, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” However, when there is a manifestation of His presence, there is a greater awareness of His nearness.

We are not required to wrap the present of His presence in holiday paper or put it in a Christmas gift bag. However, we can give this gift in two unique ways.

First, we are actually God’s presents to those around us. Jesus says in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three gather in My name, there am I with them.” Galatians 2:20 NLT says, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” Since Christ lives in us, we share His presence with whomever is in our presence. His presence radiates from within us. The presence of God is often described as His glory. Colossians 1:27 says, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Secondly, our prayers are presents to those for whom we pray. Psalm 145:18 says, “The LORD is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.” We give the present of God’s presence when we ask God to intervene in people’s lives. Philippians 4:19 NLT says, “And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from His glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” Answers to prayer are provided when the Lord is present. His presence is manifested.

Yesterday we celebrated the birth of Jesus. We recognized the fulfillment of John 1:14 ESV, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Have you received the present of His presence? If not, receive it. Jesus says 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.” His presence is not a gift you will ever want to return. However, it is a gift you will want to give. Remember, His presence is not a gift you can purchase at a store. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Although it is the day after Christmas, it is not too late to give this present. You can give His presence 365 days of the year.

The present of His presence is amazing! If your heart is discouraged today, unwrap the present of His presence that He offers you. Psalm 16:11 assures us, in Your (God’s) presence is fullness of joy.

The present of His presence is the greatest expression in Emmanuel, God with us. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! II Corinthians 9:15.

 

 

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Fear Not, Shepherds

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid;
for behold, I bring you good news of great joy
which will be for all the people;
Luke 2:10

Fear not! Fear not! Fear not! Fear not! This is the fourth week we have heard these words. We need to be reminded to not be afraid numerous times throughout our lives. It is easy for us to be overcome by fear. However, God wants us to replace fear with faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” In the natural, we tend to become fearful of something we cannot see or understand. We feel anxious and uneasy. However, God wants us to trust Him regarding unseen things. He desires our respect and reverence.

Over the past few weeks, we have observed the evidence of God’s faithfulness to Zechariah, Mary and Joseph. They did not need to fear. Today we will study our final example – the shepherds.

It was dark. It was night. Shepherds were taking care of their sheep. Suddenly, the light of the glory of the Lord shone around them. Darkness disappeared and angels appeared. An angel spoke, “Do not be afraid.” The angel continued to tell the shepherds good news – the Savior of the world had been born.

So much for the shepherds to think about! I would like to have heard their conversation after encountering the angel. We only know that they decided to go see this newborn baby. (see Luke 2:16) Upon their arrival, the shepherds discovered that the prophecy of Isaiah 9:6 was fulfilled before their eyes, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” What a wonderful experience they encountered because they were not afraid!

The shepherds did not let fear prevent them from going to see Jesus. Neither should we allow fear to hinder us from developing a personal relationship with Jesus. Deuteronomy 31:8 tells us, “The LORD Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

During the time the shepherds traveled from their flocks to Jesus, they exchanged scared fear for sacred fear. We, too, must let go of our terrifying fear and grasp hold of reverential fear. Proverbs 3:7 warns, “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD.” Psalm 34:9 exhorts us, “Fear the LORD, you His holy people, for those who fear Him lack nothing.

Psalm 103:11 says, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him.” The heavens reveal the vastness of God love. While watching their sheep this particular night, the shepherds saw angels in addition to stars in the sky. The angels may have caused them to be fearful but God’s love helped them overcome their anxiety. Sacred fear is more powerful than scared fear. Psalm 103:17 gives us an awesome promise, “But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear Him, and His righteousness with their children’s children.

John Bevere explains that moving from fear to faith (reverential fear) involves an inner transformation of the heart. He goes on to say, “Holy fear gives God the place of glory, honor, reverence, thanksgiving, praise, and preeminence He deserves.” David asks in Psalm 56:1 NLT,I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?We will deny God what He deserves if we focus upon being afraid of what mankind can do.

After seeing baby Jesus, Luke 2:20 NLT says, “The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.” Their joy overflowed. When the shepherds refused to yield to emotional fear, they experienced reverential fear. Psalm 128:1 NLT declares, How joyful are those who fear the LORD–all who follow his ways! Now it is our turn to decide whether we will act out of fear or in faith. Psalm 145:3 NLT says, “Great is the LORD! He is most worthy of praise! No one can measure his greatness.”

In just a few days we will celebrate Christmas. Let us exchange fear for fear. Celebrate the birth of our Savior and Lord with reverential awe and adoration. He is Emmanuel – God with us! Psalm 147:11 says, “The LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in His unfailing love.”

Fear Not, Joseph

An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife,
because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 1:20

 

We are now in our third week of Advent – preparing our hearts and homes for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Joseph is the next Christmas character we will consider who faced fear.

Mary had broken the news to Joseph that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. He had to decide what he was going to do. Being a righteous man, he considered quietly divorcing Mary as his way of getting out of this predicament. God had other plans and He needed to get Joseph’s attention.

God spoke to Joseph a dream.

Let’s think a little more about dreams. The Lord says in Joel 2:28-29, I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.Chronologically, Joseph was a young man. However, I believe his spiritual maturity qualified him as an older man. Joseph’s dream was a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. This prophecy was also fulfilled at Pentecost. (See Acts 2:17.) The Holy Spirit still speaks through dreams. Be alert. The Lord may choose to help you overcome fear through a dream.

God gave Joseph instructions through a dream – and he obeyed. Joseph’s obedience is a good example for us. Jesus says in Luke 11:28, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Since God could trust Joseph to hear and obey, He spoke to him three more times through dreams. Each time the Lord gave Joseph further guidance. There accounts are found in Matthew 2:1-12, Matthew 2:16-18 and Matthew 2:22. Joseph’s encounter with the Spirit of God was not a one time experience. The Holy Spirit also came upon the disciples more than once. Acts 13:62 NASB says, “And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit wants to speak to us as well. And, He will speak to us numerous times!

Last week we emphasized that Mary became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. This week we find Joseph was guided and instructed by the Holy Spirit. Both of them listened to the Spirit. Joseph was not fearful because he was not afraid of what God was doing.

Joseph entrusted Mary’s life as well as his own into the hands of God. Joseph felt no reason to fear the Spirit’s work – neither should we. Hebrews 13:5 NLT declares, “So we can say with confidence, ‘The LORD is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?’”

Jesus tells us in John 14:16, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.Different translations use different words to describe the Holy Spirit – Advocate, Counselor, Comforter, Helper. All these terms help us understand the role of the Holy Spirit.

God had a plan for Joseph. Joseph was an integral part of the birth of Jesus. God also has a plan for each of us. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” With this promise, we need not be afraid. We are simply to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Georgio A. Dano has said, “Fear ends where faith begins.”

Fear Not, Mary

 

Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her,
“for you have found favor with God!
Luke 1:30

Today we continue our Advent study of Christmas characters who were told not to be afraid. May we also be encouraged to discard fear from our lives. We must remember that these are real people who had genuine encounters with God. We are not just reading fictional stories.

Let us look closely at Mary.

One of the first things I notice about the scripture of Luke 1:30 is that the angel addressed Mary by name. God knew her name! He spoke personally to her.

The Lord says in Isaiah 43:1, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” God addressed Isaiah with these words. He spoke similar words to Mary approximately 700 years later. Now over 2000 years later, He still speaks these words. Place your name in the blanks and hear the Lord say, “________, don’t be afraid; I have called you by name. You are mine. ________, do not be afraid.”

What was happening for Mary before she heard God calling her name?

Mary lived in Galilee and was planning her marriage to Joseph. Suddenly there was a change in plans when an angel appeared. The first thing the angel told Mary was to not be afraid. However, being told not to fear, did not mean she would not encounter fear.

The angel gave Mary a revelation as well as a warning. She was told she would conceive a baby by the Holy Spirit. It would be scary for any unwed young woman to find out she was pregnant. But there was more for Mary to learn. Things got even scarier when she found out the conception would take place by the Holy Spirit. She could not comprehend how this could happen.

Mary needed to grasp that although she was in a scary situation, God was with her. She did not need to be afraid. Something good was coming – the birth of the Son of God and Son of man. Emmanuel, God with us, would be born through her body.

Mary did not have the scripture of II Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” These would have been comforting Mary. The are reassuring words for us today.

Although we may be told not to fear, it is not always easy to avoid fear. Fear often leads to worry. Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

The angel informed Mary that she had found favor with God. This meant He was pleased with her. He loved her. According to gotquestions.org, those who are favored of God know that God is with them and that nothing can happen to them apart from His good purpose. Romans 8:28 says, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Those who receive God’s favor also have the assurance that the Lord is attentive when they walk through difficult times. According to Psalm 34:15, “The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are attentive to their cry.” When we have the favor of the Lord, we rest in quiet confidence. Isaiah 30:15 NLT tells us, “In quietness and confidence is your strength.”

When Mary followed the Lord’s plan, His plans were fulfilled. Mary had been preparing for her marriage celebration to Joseph. It didn’t go exactly as she planned. However, she did not walk in fear. Mary set an example for us. We must not become fearful when everything does not go as we have planned. Let us be impregnated with Jesus and His ways. God’s plans may be different from ours. Matthew 6:34 says, “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Fear Not, Zechariah

Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer.
Luke 1:13

Do not fear” is a command given by God. Numerous people heard these words throughout scripture. God speaks similarly to us today. We must remember that these words are a command. They are not just a suggestion. It is interesting that God often follows this directive with a further revelation or interaction. When He requires us to do something, He helps us do it.

According to the Christian calendar, Advent will begin Sunday. This is a time of preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. May we also use this period as a time of preparing our hearts to gain insight of how not to fear.

Between now and Christmas, we are going to look at four Christmas characters who were told to not be afraid. Today we begin with Zechariah.

While Zechariah was in the temple burning incense, an angel appeared to him. Luke 1:12 says, “Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear.” I can’t blame him! An angel would startle anyone. There were two reasons for him not to be afraid. First, he was not to be fearful of this heavenly being’s appearance. Secondly, he was not to be afraid that God had not heard his prayers.

The angelic messenger told Zechariah that Elizabeth would finally have a child. According to verse 14, Zech and Liz would experience joy instead of fear.

We can be assured that God will also answer our prayers. Psalm 91:15, “He will call on Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.Calling is praying.

The Lord says in Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Zechariah heard things he did not understand. He was not confident about what he was hearing. In Luke 1:18, Zechariah asked, “How can I be sure of this?” After questioning God, Zechariah was not able to speak until his son John was born.

During this time of silence, I assume that Zechariah’s fear was replaced with faith. He had a lot of time for quiet meditation. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” This verse applies to us as well as Zechariah. When we become anxious and fearful, let us be quiet and listen for the Lord. We must allow faith to overpower our fear.

Hebrews 11:1 NLT states, “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” I also like the New King James translation which says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” A note in the Spirit Filled Life Bible points out that this is not a definition of faith. This is a description of how faith works. Faith is the assurance of what God promises. Faith is being confident that God is constantly working behind the scenes in our lives even when we do not see any tangible evidence.

An anonymous quote says, “Faith allows things to happen. It is the power that comes from a fearless heart. And when a fearless heart believes, miracles happen.This was true for Zechariah. When he replaced the fear in his heart with faith, the miraculous birth of John the Baptist transpired with Zechariah and Elizabeth being the parents. God’s faithfulness was stronger than Zechariah’s fear.

Fear and faith cannot coexist. My Reader, may you not only hear God say to you, “Do not fear.” – also hear Him say, “Have faith.”

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!